How do we best help Mom handle Dad's funeral when she has Alzheimer's?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 14, 2017
Yorkshirelass asked...

My mum has Alzheimer's and my dad has just passed away. She has been told of his death and of course she is calling out for him when she wakes and starts to sob when she is reminded that he has passed. Typically how will she do with the funeral and all the relatives, etc., that goes with it? Will it worsen her symptoms? We don't want to hasten the disease for her. We are thinking of having a small committal services for him (immediate family only), having him cremated and then putting his ashes in her coffin when she goes, and having one big funeral for the two of them to spare her the upset. What are your thoughts about this?

Expert Answers

Ron Kauffman is a certified senior advisor (CSA), senior lifestyle radio host, syndicated newspaper columnist, and the author of Caring for a Loved One With Alzheimer's Disease. In addition, Kauffman is also the primary caregiver for his mother, who has Alzheimer's.

My condolences on the loss of your dad. It appears that your mum's memory of her husband, your father, is still fairly clear, as you state she calls for him, and is responding in an emotional manner consistent with the loss and her grief.

Based on what you have stated, I believe your mum may benefit from being an active part of the closure of the loss of her husband by attending the funeral. The relatives, assuming they are aware of your mother's condition, can be very supportive and understanding and that will be helpful.

My response is based on the little I know of your mum. I suggest you call her neurologist and ask her opinion, because a severe emotional blow can exacerbate memory loss, and if the level of her anxiety or emotional upset increases and remains higher, that too can have a negative impact on her ability to maintain current cognitive levels.

Also, if she is on a number of medicines for her heart, blood pressure, possibly others for memory loss such as Aricept, those drugs may have a slightly different impact or no impact upon her based upon her emotional status. Ask her neurologist about that aspect as well.

I really like your idea of having a quiet, family committal service, as that will allow your mother to grieve and help her achieve closure regarding the loss in a less highly charged atmosphere. It will also reduce the added stress of a traditional funeral and the stress of having people other than immediate family involved.

Days and weeks after the service, your mum may have to be reminded that her husband is gone, should she forget and call for him. Because she is currently feeling his loss, if it were my mother and my family, I'd spare her the "public" event and keep it private, low-key and small.

In the days following the service, watch for any signs of increasing physical or cognitive decline with your mum, and notify her neurologist if she doesn't seem to be getting beyond the loss or shows signs of further decline.

Be supportive, don't be afraid to share pictures and memories, and continue to encourage your mum to do the activities that make her happy. I'm sure you'll make the right decisions.

Community Answers

Yorkshirelass answered...

By the time I received your answer we had had the committal service with a small number of close family members only. Mum handled it beautifully. There was an appropriate amount of sadness and she was very dignified through the whole thing. It felt right to do it that way and everyone in the family was very understanding. If anyone asked to come we did not stop them but basically we let it be known, through one family member, of the date and place of the service, but did not advertise the time. That family member called everyone to keep them abreast of the proceedings. Thank you for your reply.