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Common Caregiver Problems: A Series with Solutions – Part 3 – Ambiguous Loss and Anticipatory Grief

Caregiver Problems PhiladelphiaAs any of the caregiver agencies in Philadelphia can tell you, any form of caregiving involves unique challenges. In part one and part two of this series, we covered the work stresses and overall emotional stress that many caregivers often deal with.

However, perhaps the toughest emotional challenge comes from caring for a loved one with dementia.  Every day, they can slip further away.  On one hand, the “spirit” of the person you know is vanishing, but on the other, they remain alive and physically present.


The feelings produced by this situation are complicated and hard to describe. The term “ambiguous loss” is often used to describe a situation where such a loss has occurred. Ambiguous loss is a feeling of loss that is unresolved. A person may feel that they have lost a loved one even though their loved one is still present and in need of love and care.

Another common occurrence for those with loved ones who have dementia, or an illness that is terminal, is anticipatory grief. This feeling of “anticipatory grief,” or grieving before a loved one has truly passed on, can lead to normal and abnormal expressions of grief.

Both of these situations can lead to guilt for caregivers of loved ones. They may feel that they are wrong to experience guilt, or that expressing sorrow for a loss that is not “real” is inappropriate. Anger, sadness, loneliness and unpredictable irritability can result.

These feelings are going to be unique to every situation, but we hope we can offer a few pieces of advice for handling them.

How to Cope with Ambiguous Loss and Anticipatory Grief

Acknowledge your feelings

Trying to “bury your feelings” is rarely, if ever, the right answer in these situations. Buried feelings have a tendency to fester, almost like an untreated wound, and only become more toxic as time goes on.

What you are feeling is normal. Just about everyone who has a loved one with dementia deals with these issues.

“Just move on” is rarely good advice 

One of the things that hurts worst about anticipatory grief is that “just moving on” is nearly impossible, but well-meaning people will probably make the suggestion anyway. Try to avoid pressuring yourself to move on faster or further than feels comfortable.

Try to focus on the positives in their lives

Avoid focusing on what has been lost from the person in your care; instead, focus on what still makes him/her happy. When you focus on the positives in your loved one’s life, you will also help nurture his/her happiness. Trying to remind dementia victims of lost things, or trying to force them to retain their old personalities, will usually only stress or confuse them.

When you feel overwhelmed, seek emotional support

Trying to carry an emotional burden by yourself can make your troubles worse.  Find someone you can talk to about your situation. Talk to someone: a friend, coworker, neighbor, priest or a counselor, for example, to find a way to talk through your problems. You might also consider joining online or in-person support groups.

Consider bringing in professional caregivers

When your feelings are causing you difficulty in providing proper care, you may need to consider hiring professional help. Home caregiver agencies in Philadelphia can help look after your loved one, allowing you some distance while still keeping him/her present in your life.

Let Neighborly Home Care help you and your family!

Neighborly Home Care is one of the most-respected caregiver agencies in Philadelphia. When you feel overwhelmed, please contact us to learn about the services we can provide.

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I just wanted to tell you how grateful we are that Neighborly Home Care stepped in & took over taking care of my Dad when we really needed it, no questions asked. Our caregiver has become part of the family and we know we can depend on her being there every day & taking great care of my Dad. He misses her when she’s not there!

— Daughter of an NHC Client