Stages of Family Adjustment
Adjusting to the reality of Alzheimer's disease in a loved one is a complex and difficult process. Yet we must find a way to reconcile ourselves to the disease as best we can, for accepting the disease makes it easier to handle the emotional and physical strains that Alzheimer's brings. If we continue to deny the disease and its implications, we risk denying both the person with Alzheimer's and ourselves the support and care that are needed.
Because Alzheimer's is a fatal disease and one that often involves a lingering death, the stages of grief that family members go through are very similar to the stages of adjustment to death described by Dr. Elizabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book, On Death and Dying. It is useful to understand these stages, both as they correspond to one's own psychological adjustment to the disease and for the light they may shed on the reactions of other family members.
Not everyone will go through these stages in the same way, of course, and some family members will find it easier to accept the disease than others. Each individual will probably find that she can reconcile herself to what is happening at some times better than others. Often we may misinterpret the reactions of those around us or wish they would adjust differently. If family members accept the idea that each person must face up to the disease in his own way, however, the family can serve as a strong support system throughout the adjustment process.
In one family, for example, a mother and her son may react very differently to the illness of the father. The mother may feel a helpless anger and