Anticipatory Grief

Why It's Natural to Grieve Before Death

Caring for someone during the long decline of dementia means enduring many losses. Some days you may awaken feeling as if you're in mourning. In a way, you are. Dementia caregivers are especially vulnerable to anticipatory grief, a form of grieving for a loved one that begins while the person is still alive.

Three helpful things to know:

  • Anticipatory grief is perfectly natural. With dementia, so much of the person's personality (and, eventually, physical self) is altered, it's natural for family members to mourn these losses.

  • Anticipatory grief is the same as "real" postmortem grief. A 2001 study in The Gerontologist called anticipatory grief equivalent in intensity and breadth to the response to death.

  • Anticipatory grief has an odd silver lining. Grief specialists say it prepares us for the end. In dementia, it may be a long, slow, painful warm-up, but it is a warm-up. Learn more about anticipatory grief.

Paula Spencer Scott

Paula Spencer Scott is the author of Surviving Alzheimer's: Practical Tips and Soul-Saving Wisdom for Caregivers and much of the Alzheimer's and caregiving content on Caring. See full bio