Helping Seniors Cope with the Loss of a Loved One
During this time of their lives, a lot of your senior’s experience may be punctuated by loss: loss of health, independence, mobility, routine, and more. The most acute loss is that of family and friends. Here are some ways to help them cope.
As they grow older, your loved ones will lose friends, family and spouses through death. While they may be aware that loss will happen, that knowledge doesn’t always give them the tools to handle it.
The Stages of Grief
Swiss-American psychiatrist Elizabeth Kübler-Ross outlines five stages in the grief process:
While it is often thought that, once you’ve completed one stage, you move to the next one and never go back, this is not necessarily the case. The path is more like a roller coaster where the person grieving may experience higher and lower depths of feeling and may loop back to previous steps multiple times during the ride. This is normal. Often, memory loss and dementia can make it feel like the losses are fresh over and over. It is important to practice compassion when your senior doesn’t remember that their spouse or friend has passed. Allow them to process it anew, rather than being frustrated with them that they don’t remember. They may have to go through the stages of grief daily. Losing a spouse may leave a gap that is larger than just the person. The lost spouse may have been the one who was more upbeat, more thoughtful, more organized, more of the caregiver in the relationship. There may have been tasks they enacted throughout the relationship that the surviving spouse never had to do – paying bills, cooking, gardening, cleaning, even driving. This secondary loss can be keenly felt by the surviving spouse. Learning new skills at this point in their lives may seem overwhelming and contribute to the difficulty of moving on at each stage. Don’t discount the loss of other friends or family in their life. Staying involved in their daily lives, even through phone conversations, will help you see who is important to your loved one and will help you know when to be there for them during an unexpected loss
Depression in Seniors
Grief left unacknowledged can morph into depression. Depression is a medical illness that carries with it a wealth of other health risks. Unfortunately, so often, depression is assumed as a normal component of aging – a reaction to illness, loss, and social transition as your senior faces their own mortality and vulnerability. It does not need to be.
While depression certainly might stem from these conditions, it needs to be treated as a separate illness with its own diagnosis. Sometimes, successfully addressing depression can lessen other symptoms of aging. Happiness or contentment can be a healing antidote, protecting the immune system, increasing social awareness, lowering heart and blood pressure, and inspiring healthier decisions.
If you believe that you or a loved one could benefit from some extra help, check out Parkwood Home Care’s Home Care Services for a full list of offered services.