When a member’s loved one is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s

sad person sitting on bench alone

This is likely to be a distressing time in their life. Here are ways the diaconate can help them…

When someone realizes they are going to lose their loved one to this disease and maybe even also become their caretaker, they are likely to be overcome with grief. At the Alzheimer’s Association, we read:

Learning that someone you care about has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or other related dementia can be life changing. Coming to terms with the diagnosis requires time. Immediate reactions of denial and fear are normal and may help you and the person diagnosed process the grief you are feeling.

As a deacon, you can help bring comfort into the member’s life. Remind them of the words of the Lord Jesus: “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” (Matthew 5:4). Remind them of the words of the Apostle Paul: “May the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ be praised. He is the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort” (2 Corinthians 1:3).

This world is being redeemed, but all of creation remains under a curse. Alzheimer’s disease is surely an affliction that is the product of a fallen world and not the fault of the person who is afflicted. It is not the fault of their loved ones. Remind the church member that Christ is redeeming the world, and at the end of time He will bring to fullness the New Heavens and the New Earth. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, or grieving, or crying, or pain. The former things have passed away,” the Book of Revelation (21:4) promises.

One woman who has been through the pain offers this insight:

It’s okay. Go ahead and freak. Just realize—and I can say this because I’ve been there—that your life isn’t over. It’s different, sure. Tougher. Sadder. More frustrating. But it’s also likely to be sprinkled with moments of joy and humor and love that you’ll perceive in a deeper way precisely because of your new frame of reference. (Basically, you’re putting on a new pair of glasses.)

After the tears dry up (the first bout, anyway) and you start to pull yourself together, there are certain things you’ll need to do right away. These things will make your life and the life of the person you’re caring for better.

Steps to take

She explains that the person who has learned that a loved one has Alzheimer’s needs to make a mental shift. This is because there are things they need to do now, as soon as possible, to make the long-run more successful.

The deacons can be prepared with this checklist of actions to take. You can be prepared to help step the member through this process.

The first thing to recommend is getting a second opinion if they haven’t already. Doctors make mistakes:

Get a second opinion. Doctors are not infallible and sometimes they get it wrong. Who gave the diagnosis? Was it her primary physician, cardiologist, or internist? Even if it was a neurologist, get that second opinion. Who read the radiologist’s report? Know that many doctors will put down an RX for stroke and that’s what the radiologist will scan for. What is the age of the MRI machine? Know that Medicare pays for the scan whether it’s in an older machine or a newer one.

You can recommend they call a family meeting:

Call a family meeting. Once you’ve had a chance to digest what’s happened, it’s time for the “family talk.” This is the time to explain to other family members the diagnosis, discuss what needs to be done, and decide who’s on board to help and who is going to jump ship. It may sound harsh, but being upfront will make life simpler for all in the long run. Be realistic and prepared. It’s better to know upfront that you are going to be going it alone than deal with ongoing anger and frustration when other family members let you down.

There are financial issues to start facing. This will be a lot easier to do now instead of later if their loved one still has a clear mind:

Face financial realities head on. (Surprises suck!) Many caregivers just assume the family homestead is free and clear from mortgages. Don’t. You might find that your parents refinanced-several times-without telling you, and the home is upside down and actually in debt. Older homes need more work and neighborhoods change-this all needs to be factored in for living arrangements and future care costs.

Take immediate action to get your loved one’s financial house in order. While she is still able to tell you, get bank account information, PIN numbers, and so forth. If she is computer savvy, get passwords and login info. Make a list of all insurances, employees’ benefits, pension plans, etc. and check the beneficiaries. Also note safety deposit boxes (some people have more than one), brokerage houses, IRAs, stocks, mutual funds, and annuities.

The writer recommends figuring out health insurance also. Does the loved one have any? Will it cover treatment? What about hospitalization?

There are also legal matters that must be addressed:

Pull all necessary legal documents together. Now is the time to get the “big three” in place: living will, durable power of attorney, and healthcare surrogate. People change, relationships change, laws change. The person who may have been chosen as caregiver years ago may no longer be around or may not be appropriate at this time. Legal documents should be reviewed every three years. If Mom is still capable of making good decisions, now is the time to talk about and make these changes. Nobody knows what tomorrow will bring, and a sudden illness or fall can cause a huge decline in mental functioning, so don’t delay.

A shift in relationship and hierarchy

Lastly, she also mentions the difficulty that people can have adjusting to the new reality. They may be staring at a monumental shift in their life. In the case of married people, a long-term arrangement between husband and wife can be overturned:

Get a handle on your own needs regarding your loved one. I will write more about this in future blogs, but for now, realize that as your loved one changes, so will the dynamics between the two of you. For example, a woman who has always looked to her husband to be the “leader” will now need to take on that role. This is a huge psychological shift to make and it is deeply distressing. The truth is, we don’t like it when people change because it forces us out of our previous comfortable existence.

Biblically, the husband is the head of the household. But if he gets Alzheimer’s, this responsibility will shift to his wife. She will become the legal head. This is why she may need to be given power of attorney over her husband. Their children should also get involved with a legal succession plan put in place should something happen to her.

When a woman becomes head of her household, it is because she has become a widow, if not actually then judicially. If her husband is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, then it won’t be long before the legal reality becomes the actual reality.

In that case, the following passage from Scripture becomes relevant:

Honor widows, the real widows. But if a widow has children or grandchildren, let them first learn to show honor in their own household. Let them repay their parents, because this is pleasing to God. But a real widow is left all alone. She puts her certain hope in God. She always remains with requests and prayers both night and day. . . Let a woman be enrolled as a widow who is not younger than sixty, a wife of one husband. She must be known for good deeds, whether it is that she has cared for children, or has been hospitable to strangers, or has washed the feet of the saints, or has relieved the afflicted, or has been devoted to every good work.

1 Timothy 5:3-5,9-10

The church may become responsible for the widow. The deacons need to be prepared for this.


Watching a loved one be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, then succumb to it, is a painful, grief-ridden process. Church members will need the support of their local body. They may be too overcome with sorrow to want to take the steps they ought to take. The deacons can offer to help. The member can give the deacons permission to make phone calls and some arrangements on her behalf.

This article covers a basic outline of important and practical actions a deacon can help a member take. Start with prayer. Taking the necessary steps will help the member begin to process their grief and initiate the healing process. These steps also keep the long-run in mind.