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December 13, 2022

Explaining the Death of a Loved One to a Person Needing Memory Care Help

By: Country Meadows | Memory Care

Grief is a strong, sometimes overwhelming emotion that is natural and normal. There is no one “right” way to grieve, and each one of us reacts in our own way. People with dementia requiring memory care help can have problems understanding and communicating, but that doesn’t mean they can’t feel grief when someone dies. While they experience the mourning process, people with advanced dementia may not have the cognitive skills to resolve or make sense of their grief.

The first question families may ask is whether or not to tell their loved one receiving memory care help that a loved one has passed away. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, if the individual is in the early stages of dementia, it is best to start a conversation about the death to gauge their reaction. If the person is in later stages, they may be unable to understand, so it may be best not to share information about the death.

Here are some tips to tell your loved one receiving memory support that someone has passed away.

  • Take care of yourself, first. Take time to come to terms with the individual’s passing prior to sharing the sad news with your loved one needing memory care help. Make sure you have support in place for yourself. If you are too emotional, ask someone else, such as a friend or healthcare professional, to share the news.
  • Due to the changes caused by dementia, some traditional family roles, such as emotional supporter, will change. It can be hard for children who are used to finding support from a parent during difficult times, such as loss, to realize that instead they, the child, will need to provide the emotional support for their parent. Preparing yourself for this change in family dynamics is an important step in sharing news of loss with a loved one living with dementia.
  • Choose a time when the person needing memory care help is well rested.
  • Try not to give too much information at once.
  • Use clear statements as well as short, simple phrases to explain what happened. Use terms the person living in memory support may use when discussing a loss.
  • Be prepared to repeat information.
  • Provide honest, simple answers to questions.
  • Respond to your loved one’s mood – if they become agitated, or don’t understand, then it’s not the right time to talk about it.
  • If appropriate, use physical contact such as holding hands or sharing an embrace.
  • Offer the person needing memory care help reassurance if they become distressed.
  • Allow time for the person with dementia to process the news. You may need to repeat it again at a later time.
  • Consider involving the person with dementia in funeral planning if the deceased individual is a close family member or friend. Assign a simple task. This will help the death be more real for them. They may recognize the rituals around death and act appropriately.
  • If the person with dementia will be attending funeral services, plan for someone to be with the person who can also take them out if they become agitated.

After a loved one receiving memory care help has been told about a death, they may need assistance to process grief. Country Meadows uses the Validation Method to meet each resident where they are in the dementia process.

You can be most supportive to your loved one with dementia if you also take care of your own needs and get support. Be sure to refer to our tip sheet, Finding Support After a Loss, for guidance and suggestions. Supporting the person with dementia takes patience, but family members should remember to be patient with themselves as well during this stressful experience.

We’re here to help with any questions you may have regarding a loved one who may benefit from memory support services. You can start here by visiting our Resource Center. If you don’t find answers to your questions, please feel free to reach out to our team.

Country Meadows offers assisted living housing options at its nine locations in Pennsylvania and one in Frederick, Maryland. If you would like more information about how we can support you or a loved one, please contact us today.

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