Caregiver Guilt

Q.I have spent the last eight years caring for a husband with progressing dementia, diagnosed as probable Alzheimer’s disease. The last four years it has been a 24-hour-a-day job. Four months ago I was forced to admit him to a care facility because I was no longer able to control and manage him, and he became a hazard to himself, others and me. Since that time I have had trouble with depression. I am normally a positive, emotionally strong person, but recently I have had trouble holding the tears back, and I cry more often. I have to look after my husband’s welfare as well as my own. I love my husband very deeply, but I also need to live a life, and the two are often in conflict. Any suggestions other than seeing a psychologist?

Bonnie

A. What you are considering depression may be a manifestation of grief for the loss of your husband, complicated by the enormous stress you’ve been under for the past few years. You have my condolences.

Even though your husband is still alive, when his personality and behavior began to change due to the progressive dementia, you began to lose the relationship you once had with him. Such losses are as important to grieve as actual deaths — but are often more complicated than grieving a death, because the person is still alive in body, if not completely in spirit.

It may help you to approach your situation as a period of grieving and recovery. You could maintain what contact — and relationship — you can with your husband, while allowing yourself to grieve the loss of what the two of you once had, and begin putting your life together without him.

Take care of yourself in whatever way you need. Friends and family may be of particular support during this time. I suspect that most, if not all, of those around you will be sympathetic and understand your need to “live a life” and go on.

Your community may also offer a support group for family members of people with Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia. Staff at your husband’s care facility may be able to refer you to such resources. Good luck.