How You Can Help Your Senior Loved-One Cope with Grief
Grief may become a more common part of life as a person gets older, especially since they are more likely to lose aging friends, family members, and even a spouse in time. But that doesn’t make the transition of losing someone any easier. If anything, it may mean your senior loved one could use some extra support managing the difficulties of grief. In this post, we share ways to help your loved one handle grief, especially when coping with the loss of a spouse. Dealing with a loss of a partner is never an easy time but having a support system like family, friends, nurses, social workers, and a chaplain can help with the process. Here at Mitchell Hollingsworth, the staff are seasoned to help grieving seniors and recognize signs of depression or other mental health concerns. In addition, our facility can help keep your loved one from feeling isolated and can provide the support of other seniors who may be going through similar situations.
Grieving in Seniors
In this post, we focus mostly on elderly grief from the loss of a spouse, yet this information can be used to help with different types of grief. Since women tend to outlive men, what we often see in the senior age group is women grieving the loss of a husband. Nonetheless, widower grief in men is just as real and every bit as important to address.
How do elderly widows and widowers react to the death of their significant other? Grieving is a difficult experience to go through, and that plays out in ways that affect physical and mental health. For example, grief can weaken the immune system, increase inflammation throughout the body, raise blood pressure, and lead to other health impacts caused by stress and emotional pain. Widows and widowers may also face isolation, which contributes to mental and physical health consequences on its own.
Some people, especially spouses, may experience what is known as “broken heart syndrome”. This is the effects of grief on the cardiovascular system which results in a form of heart disease similar to a heart attack. Grief can also contribute to mental health concerns such as depression. For example, you may notice depression in a senior after the death of a spouse.
How long does grief last after the death of a spouse? The answer to this question varies for each person. There is not one experience for all or a "right" amount of time. Each person needs to go through their own grieving process. Nonetheless, it is sometimes the case that someone is stuck and needs support to manage their grief and to move forward. Anyone and everyone who is grieving can benefit from a strong support system.
If your loved one has ongoing grief and seems to be struggling to understand the loss or live their own life, they may have complicated grief. In this case, it would be beneficial to seek out professional help through therapy or support groups.
How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving the Loss of a Spouse
You might be worried about your parent facing loneliness after the death of their husband or wife. Or perhaps your parent or another senior has lost other people in their social support network and has become isolated. What can you do to help?
Here are some methods for how to help a grieving spouse:
Encourage Grief Counseling: This type of counseling is specialized to people who are grieving, so it can be beneficial to seniors going through this experience. Counseling provides professional support as well as social connections with people sharing a similar experience. If you notice signs of depression after the death of a spouse, make sure to encourage mental health support from a professional. It’s also smart to ensure your loved one is having their physical health checked, as grief can take a physical toll on the body.
Be Patient: Avoid trying to rush your senior loved one through the grief process, as they need the amount of time that is right for them. Older adults may need extra time working through their feelings. Try to be respectful and understanding during that time.
Be There: Help your loved one avoid loneliness and isolation while grieving by reaching out to them more often. This may mean calling, finding digital ways to connect, or even seeing them face to face. You could also try taking your loved one out for an activity they may enjoy, if they’re up for it. Check on your loved one to make sure they are taking care of themself.
Encourage Discussion: You can help your loved one share their feelings by talking about the loss and the grieving experience. If you don’t know what to say to a grieving widow or widower, it may help to share memories. Talking about those memories could be beneficial to you as well if the person who died was your parent or another family member. As part of this process, encourage your senior loved one to talk about their sadness and identify their feelings. You could also suggest journaling, especially if your loved one is a private person.
Provide a Supportive Community
While you can offer support to your loved one, you can also encourage them to seek social support from others. It may be especially helpful for them to connect with people their own age who understand grieving the loss of a spouse. It’s worth considering whether a skilled nursing facility or staying at home would be best for your senior loved one.
At Mitchell Hollingsworth, we provide support to help an elderly widow or widower transition to a new stage of life after the death of a spouse. This is also an option for people who have lost other types of people they were close to and are experiencing the loneliness and heartache of grief. Our community would connect your loved one to others through communal dining, group activities, and socializing. If you are interested in considering this option, please feel free to give us a call at 256-740-5400.