How to Help Loved Ones with Dementia Cope with the Loss of a Spouse

admin-ajaxThere are creative and effective ways to help an aging parent, family member or loved one who suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia cope with the loss of their spouse, according to a survey of Aging Life Care™ experts.  Remembering that there are different stages and types of dementia, making sure the surviving spouse does not become socially isolated and not rushing other major changes in their lives are among the top expert recommendations.

Americans are increasingly challenged by the need to communicate difficult information to aging family members with dementia. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) as many as 5 million of the 43 million Americans age 65 and older may have Alzheimer’s disease and another 1.8 million people have some other form of dementia. And, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, the number of Americans with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias will escalate rapidly in coming years as baby boomers age. By 2050, the number of people age 65 and older with Alzheimer’s disease may nearly triple, from 5 million to as many as 16 million, barring the development of medical breakthroughs to prevent, slow or stop the disease.During World Alzheimer's Month, the ALCA blog will share posts on dementia.

As the world recognizes September as World Alzheimer’s Month, the Aging Life Care Association™ is sharing helpful information from members  to help American families facing one of the most difficult of these challenges. ALCA polled 288 Aging Life Care Professionals™ from across the country asking them to identify the most effective strategies for helping a loved one with dementia cope with the loss of their spouse. The top six strategies identified by the aging experts are:

1. Remember there are many different stages of dementia. Your loved one’s capacity for understanding, coping and grieving can be very different depending on their stage of dementia. (Identified by 96% of survey respondents )

2. If your loved one’s response to reminiscing about their spouse is positive, share old photos and memories. (88 %)

3. Make sure the surviving spouse is not socially isolated. Schedule visitors on a regular basis and help them keep up with any normal social routines they have. (85%)

4. Reassure them there are people who care about them and will care for them. (84%)

#5 Don’t rush big changes. It may make sense for them at some point to move to a facility, or closer to family. But, if possible, give them time to adapt so there aren’t too many major life changes at once. (81%)

6. If they choose to be included in mourning rituals for their spouse, make sure there is someone overseeing this so if the situation becomes too stressful they can leave. (78%)

“With the rising rates of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, families are increasingly confronted with this difficult challenge,” said Emily B. Saltz, MSW, LICSW, CMC . “Our survey shows that knowing your loved one’s stage of dementia and respecting individual differences are key,” added Ms. Saltz.

Many of the Aging Life Care Professionals™ surveyed expressed strong views about the need for tailoring your response to the individual, both in terms of their stage of dementia and their personality. Some individual comments included:

  • “As each person is unique, each person with dementia is unique. Recognize your loved one’s values, personality and culture.”
  • “There are varying types of dementia, some affecting short term memory more than others and each type has a different appropriate response.”

Other Aging Life Care experts surveyed by ALCA shared additional tips, including:

  • “Do not underestimate their ability to understand, at an emotional level, what they cannot express verbally.”
  • “Take cues from the affected person. If they are not aware or focused on the loss, do not remind or instigate a conversation about the loss.”

To find an Aging Life Care Expert near you, search an online directory of professionals at aginglifecare.org.


This blog is for informational purposes only and does not constitute, nor is it intended to be a substitute for, professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Information on this blog does not necessarily reflect official positions of the Aging Life Care Association™ and is provided “as is” without warranty. Always consult with a qualified professional with any particular questions you may have regarding your or a family member’s needs.