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Carol W. Berman, M.D. Headshot

How to Find Acceptance of Your Loved One's Dementia

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The most difficult part of my entire ordeal of dealing with my husband's dementia was accepting his degeneration. It was happening and I couldn't deny it. I had gone through most of Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' emotional stages of grieving: denial, anger, bargaining and depression, although not necessarily in that order. When I came to the last stage, acceptance, I was stuck.

Also I'd struggled through my feelings of anxiety, fear, somatization (which for me meant headaches, mostly), control, acting out, intellectualization and humor. The jumble of emotions I had experienced was exhausting, but necessary to acknowledge and process. I had done everything I could to help him: taken him to the best doctors, had him admitted to superb hospitals and nursing homes. Then, finally, I could only be there and hold his hand and watch the whole miserable process unfold. Surprisingly he didn't mind as much as I did. The merciful part of dementia is that most patients lose their capacity to care what happens. Their loved ones are left worrying and fighting the disease.

When I read Eckhart Tolle's book, The Power of Now, I totally agreed with him. There is only now, and why dwell on the past or future? Just concentrate on now. That was as difficult as could be, but such theories helped me to accept what was happening to my husband.

At my latest American Psychiatric Association (APA) meeting in May 2013, I took an interesting course in "Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy" where the seminar directors were teaching us about self-compassion. They had us do muscle relaxation exercises with deep breathing. We had to turn off all electronic equipment, take our shoes off, loosen our belts and sit back. I loved it. I sat back, let all my muscles soften and breathed deeply. The first thoughts that came into my mind were about where I'd eat dinner, how to get back to my hotel, if I should call my friend. But then I stopped those thoughts when they asked us to accept all thoughts that were running through our minds without judgment. We were just to sit back and release our self-criticisms. They claimed that doing this for ten minutes per day (and instructing our patients to practice it daily for at least ten minutes) would prevent negative emotions and increase self-esteem.

I tried it and I am still doing it today with good results. It fits in with my yoga exercises and meditation. This practice of mindfulness meditation helped me gain acceptance.

I realized that my acceptance of my husband's degeneration did not mean that I was giving up. My acceptance meant that I was making room in my mind and emotions for what was already in existence. Then change could occur. Change would occur if I accepted the reality of his situation or not. Acceptance was the most emotionally healthy and rewarding path to take.

To gain acceptance of what is happening to your loved one with dementia, try these tips:

1) Work through your first emotions with a therapist or trusted friend. Acknowledge that you were in denial, you were angry, you bargained and you were depressed at his or her condition.

2) Do the best you can to communicate needs and requests to his or her doctors, nurses and physical therapists. Don't expect to do or manage life or your loved one's care perfectly. These are probably the hardest tasks you'll ever have to accomplish.

3) Try to practice yoga or some other relaxing physical exercise. You need to keep your body and mind healthy and focused to advocate for your loved one with dementia.

4) Join a support or advocacy group or get individual therapy to deal with all the other emotions you'll have as the battle against dementia continues. Many of my friends have also had great success with art therapy as way of working through their emotions.

5) Try mindfulness meditation. Many clinics or individual therapists can provide you with the basics and there are books and online articles about it as well.

6) Journal about your experiences. Get a diary and write an entry each day about what is happening with your loved one and your feelings. Writing things down solidifies reality and helps you accept it.

Understand that acceptance is the road to change, which is inevitable. You might as well accept your situation and allow yourself to receive what is happening -- and the benefits and health that follow.

For more by Carol W. Berman, M.D., click here.

For more on aging, click here.

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