Supporting Seniors As They Deal with Loss
Losing someone you love is beyond challenging and deeply distressing in any stage of life, but going through the stages of mourning and grief can be especially harrowing for seniors. The emotional anguish and overwhelming sadness that comes with experiencing loss can impact both the mental and physical health of seniors in significant ways. As we enter the later stages of life and continue to grow older, dealing with death and bereavement tends to become more frequent.
We all understand grief and loss as things that are difficult to work through, but it is important to be aware of the specific ways in which seniors can be affected by the emotions, feelings, and thoughts that come along with the loss of someone they love.
Health Implications of Grief and Bereavement
Losing someone dear to us can be crippling, overwhelming, and pervasive, impacting various aspects of health and the capacity to engage fully and joyfully in everyday life.
Physical Health Effects
Research indicates that seniors’ immune systems can be compromised in detrimental ways when they are caught up in grief. Grief can interfere with essential white blood cells responsible for fighting off harmful bacteria and infection. This leaves the body more vulnerable to illness and disease.
Grief can also lead to inflammation in the body which increases the risk for an array of health conditions. It can also raise the risk of higher blood pressure and blood clots.
Mental Health Effects
With regards to mental and emotional health, depression is often a natural companion of grief and seniors may experience feelings of hopelessness, despair, and sadness. Participating in even the most routine and mundane of tasks can feel incredibly overwhelming and difficult to manage.
Grief can impact the production and balance of hormones and neurochemicals in the brain. An imbalance of these critical processes can result in difficulty sleeping, loss of appetite, and increased fatigue and anxiety.
Symptoms of Trouble Handling Grief
If your loved one is having difficulty dealing grief they may be exhibiting some outward symptoms to indicate it. Some of the symptoms, feelings, and experiences that may come with loss include:
- Disturbed sleep
- Feelings of guilt for still being alive after a spouse, friend, or family member has died
- Feelings of anger towards the deceased for leaving
- Emotional numbness or apathy
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Poor nutrition, swings in appetite and weight
When the person who has passed away is a spouse or other housemate, seniors may feel both emotionally devastated and overwhelmed by the aftermath. Various decisions will have to be made concerning how to move forward with regards to all aspects of life at home that were once shared with a companion.
Supporting Seniors Dealing with Grief
Especially in the cases of elderly individuals, surrendering to grief and allowing oneself to withdraw deeper into sadness can happen before you know it. It is critical for senior caregivers and loved ones to offer support and reassurance, so seniors do not lose all hope. Working towards getting back to a more healthful and happy state of being as time passes is an achievable goal with the right assistance.
Here are some strategies to consider when helping seniors cope with and adjust to the new realities that follow a loss:
- Seek Community Support: Support groups exist in the Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge area that can offer support to seniors as they work through the process of bereavement in a community setting. Sharing thoughts and conversations with those who have shared similar experiences can be a big help.
- Remain Connected: Instead of growing isolated and allowing oneself to be lost completely in grief, caregivers can help motivate seniors to stay connected with friends and family members that are still living.
- Introduce Change Slowly: If lifestyle or other changes must be made to accommodate the loss of a companion, ensure that these changes are introduced gradually to make things less overwhelming and more manageable.
- Back to Basics: Make sure that the normal routines of sleeping, exercising, eating, taking medications, medical appointments, and other elements essential to good health are attended to and don’t get neglected or entirely overshadowed by emotional distress.
- Healthy Distractions: Pursuing involvement in hobbies, activities, or groups can help create distractions from feelings of sadness and sorrow. These welcome distractions can help foster connectedness and offer opportunities to build a positive outlook and emotions. Seniors can try volunteering, engaging in part-time work, a new creative hobby, taking part in a class, or getting involved in an interest group.
- Consider Therapy: Therapy and counselling on either a short or long-term basis can be hugely beneficial for seniors as they work towards accepting and dealing with their grief, to begin thinking about the next chapter of their lives.
- New Companionship: While not a direct replacement for the companionship of a loved one who has been lost, a lot of seniors find happiness and comfort in adopting a pet who can become their new companion, source of joy, and constant friend. Home caregivers can also offer additional companionship while focusing on health and wellbeing.
The processes of grieving and bereavement will bring about a wide range of different emotions that may vary day-to-day, and even moment-to-moment. The knowledge that there is support available from friends, family, communities, and professional care providers in Kitchener-Waterloo-Cambridge can help seniors understand and remember that there is still hope for fulfillment and happiness, even after the loss of someone who has been truly and deeply special in their lives.