Ask Miriam – January 2023

Published On: January 9th, 2023Categories: Ask Miriam
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Dear Miriam,

I was taking care of both of my parents who both had dementia. They were happy for many years and never wanted to be separated, so I feel very lucky that I was able to take care of them in their own home. Sadly, after getting pneumonia, my father died in the hospital. We are planning a memorial and I do not know whether my mother should go or not. Her dementia is not as advanced as his was, and while she still recognizes me, she doesn’t always seem aware that my dad is gone. She has generally been having a tougher time these past couple months, easily getting upset, not being able to dress herself, forgetting if she has eaten, and speaking less and less. Do you think I should have her attend the memorial?

—Bereaved Child

Dear Bereaved,

I’m so sorry to hear of your father’s death. It can be very difficult when both parents have dementia, and the sense of loss, even before either of them dies, is a kind of grief in itself.

Whether a person with dementia should attend a funeral or memorial depends on many things including your family’s customs and culture as well as the person’s level of comprehension, distress, and any behaviors that would be difficult to manage. Below are a few things you might want to consider.

What is the setting for the memorial? Will you be in a place that is familiar to her? She may be more comfortable if she is not in a completely new environment. In addition, think about how many people will be attending. A smaller number may be less confusing for your mother.

If your mother does go to the memorial, it would be important to appoint someone she knows – a friend or family member – to stay by her side. They can provide her with prompts, comfort, and explain things to her in ways that she can understand. Have a room set aside for them to retreat to should she become overwhelmed.

It is possible that attending the funeral will help your mother to process the idea that her husband is gone, but it is also possible that she will not remember it. There may be times where it is kinder not to remind her what has happened, especially if she repeatedly asks where he has gone. In this case, you may not want to say that he has died but, instead, divert her attention to something else. Whatever you decide to do, try to acknowledge her feelings and use as simple language as possible.

Consider getting some support for yourself at this time, too. A bereavement group that can provide emotional support and a safe place to talk about your experiences, a close friend who is a good listener, or a professional such as a physician or therapist, may be helpful.

Find out more about our Support Group for Caregivers Who Have Lost a Loved One with Dementia and additional information about grief, loss, and dementia by calling the Alzheimer’s Los Angeles Helpline at 844-435-7259 or view our list of support groups.

Best,
Miriam

Questions for Miriam can be sent to askmiriam@alzla.org.

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