DIMENSIONS Winter 2003

Dealing With Loss of Purpose

by Done E. Duckett

Note: Each issue of Dimensions features a contribution from one of the Alzheimer's groups in Washington. This article is reprinted with permission from the National Family Caregivers Association.

Sometimes changes in our lives... just knock us for a loop. A diagnosis of dementia may force both the affected person and the caregiver to re-assess self worth, personal value and reasons to continue living.

We are all familiar with the course of dementia, and we know that the victims deteriorate over time. As mental deterioration proceeds, the victim becomes less and less able to meet the emotional needs of his or her partner or family member - which may cause strain on the emotional relationship between these two people. Both the victim and the caregiver may become depressed and frustrated because they can no longer relate emotionally as they once were able to do, and each may feel isolated and rejected.

It is necessary for each caregiver to become less and less emotionally dependent upon his/her family member with dementia, and more able to let go of the expectations that his/her relative is going to provide for emotional needs. Who then is going to provide for the emotional needs of the caregiver? Certainly not the victim. What is a caregiver to do? Find other people-- such as family members, support groups, and professionals--to provide the guidance and emotional support that once was provided by their loved one.

Caregivers often experience difficulty planning for their own needs. As the symptoms of dementia become more pronounced and more demands are made on their time, caregivers often neglect social relationships, physical and emotional health. Moreover, some friends and families may accept or even expect this degree of self-sacrifice as a part of the marriage vows or their perception of familial obligations. As a caregiver, you must be your own advocate in meeting your needs. This is not selfish. Taking care of yourself is the most important thing you can do to take care of your loved one.

Achieving a healthy balance between caregiving and self- care can be a difficult process. For many people, professional assistance may be needed to get through the process. Professionals have the objectivity, as well as the necessary training and experience that friends and family members may lack. Achieving a greater degree of emotional independence will benefit the caregiver and, indirectly, the loved one who is ill.

For more information about the National Family Caregiver Alliance call1-800-896-3650, or e-mail: info@nfcacares.org.

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