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Navigating the 7 Stages of Grief in the Face of a Dementia Diagnosis

Receiving a dementia diagnosis, whether for yourself or a loved one, can be a devastating and life-altering event. The emotional roller coaster that follows often mirrors the stages of grief originally outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her groundbreaking book, “On Death and Dying.” These stages, known as the 7 stages of grief, encompass a range of emotions that individuals may experience when confronted with profound loss and change. In this article, we will explore how these stages apply to a dementia diagnosis, shedding light on the journey to acceptance and resilience.

Stage 1: Shock and Denial

The initial reaction to a dementia diagnosis is often shock and denial. Individuals may struggle to process the overwhelming news and refuse to accept the reality of the situation. Questions like “How could this happen?” and “This can’t be real!” might fill their minds as they grapple with the idea of confronting a condition with no cure. During this stage, it is essential to offer emotional support and reassurance while providing space for the person to come to terms with their diagnosis.

Stage 2: Pain and Guilt

As the diagnosis begins to sink in, individuals may experience intense emotional pain and guilt. Pain arises from the fear of losing cognitive abilities and cherished memories. Guilt may stem from blaming oneself for past actions or neglecting warning signs. Family members may also grapple with feelings of guilt, wondering if they could have done more to prevent or identify dementia earlier. It is essential to recognize these emotions as natural responses and encourage open communication to express feelings without judgment or shame.

Stage 3: Anger and Bargaining

Anger and bargaining are stages marked by a sense of injustice and an attempt to regain control. Individuals may direct anger towards themselves, healthcare providers, or even loved ones. Bargaining might manifest as seeking alternative treatments or trying to make deals with a higher power to reverse the diagnosis. Caregivers and family members should remain patient and empathetic, understanding that these emotions are part of the healing process.

Stage 4: Depression and Loneliness

Depression often becomes prevalent as individuals face the reality of living with dementia. The sense of loss, coupled with the fear of an uncertain future, can lead to feelings of hopelessness and isolation. During this stage, it is crucial to provide emotional support and encourage participation in support groups or counseling to help the person cope with their emotions constructively.

Stage 5: Upward Turn

The upward turn is characterized by small moments of relief or acceptance. While dementia remains a part of their life, individuals may find ways to adapt to their condition and experience glimpses of hope. These moments may be short-lived, but they indicate progress toward embracing the new reality and exploring ways to maintain a fulfilling life despite the challenges.

Stage 6: Reconstruction and Working Through

In this stage, individuals begin to reconstruct their lives around the dementia diagnosis. They may explore various coping mechanisms, seek professional assistance, and establish a support network to navigate the complexities of the condition. Caregivers play a significant role in supporting this process by providing the necessary resources and fostering an environment of understanding and patience.

Stage 7: Acceptance and Hope

Finally, acceptance and hope emerge as the individual comes to terms with their dementia diagnosis. Acceptance doesn’t imply resignation, but rather an acknowledgment of the situation and a commitment to living life to the fullest. Hope springs from recognizing that meaningful connections, joy, and love can still be experienced despite the challenges of dementia.

This may not be as dramatic a change as it sounds. Someone living with dementia may have limited or compromised communication capabilities.  As a result, any sign of acceptance or hope may be muted or subtle and seen simply in a drop in anxiety.  By embracing the present moment and focusing on what is possible, individuals and their caregivers can find a sense of peace and hope for the future.


A dementia diagnosis is undeniably one of life’s most profound challenges, triggering a whirlwind of emotions that align closely with the 7 stages of grief. Understanding the emotional trajectory that individuals and their loved ones experience can foster empathy, patience, and support during this difficult time.

Identifying the stages of grief will help navigate the dementia journey for other best practices and support, such as Home Care, Assisted Living or Memory Care communities, reach out to Oasis Senior Advisors 914.356.1901 | 475.619.4123

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Paul and Susan Doyle

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