04 Oct Grief in the Elderly
Grief is a normal, healthy response to a life changing event or loss. The elderly often experience more loss and grief than younger adults. While the death of a spouse or partner is the most significant loss an older adult may face, other life events also start to happen as we age. From losing friends, retirement, being forced to stop working before you are ready, to financial strain, moving, or declining health, seniors face lots of loss, and subsequently grief, in their lives. Many of my clients tell me they especially mourn for the loss of their friends and peers. With children and grandchildren busy with their own lives, these relationships take on an even greater significance in our senior years.
The death of a loved one can affect how you feel, act, and even what you believe. Death is final and the opportunity to see, touch, and talk to that person is gone forever. For seniors, the death of a spouse means the loss of a life-long partner. It also forces the surviving spouse to sometimes navigate a new, unfamiliar role in life, whether it’s managing the finances or preparing meals. This can become even more difficult if you are struggling with your own health and mortality.
Working Through Grief
Grief is a process and not an event. Experts advise there is no way to “get around” grief. The only way to effectively lessen grief is to work through the pain of loss. Some ways to go through the grief process include:
- Understand you will never get over a loss but the pain will lose its grip on you over time. The lost person, situation, or particular time will always be a part of who you are and your personal history.
- Find a support system. Search online or check with a local church or hospital for a grief support group in your local area. Many seniors find great comfort in support groups because other people the same age are experiencing a similar loss.
- Face difficult feelings. These include anger, sadness, disappointment, guilt, and relief. Consider writing a letter to the deceased to express your feelings–good and bad–then tear it up. The act of simply writing your feelings on paper can provide a release of pain and feelings enabling you to begin healing.
- Talk with friends and family members about your grief. The more you share you feelings and experiences, the easier you will adapt to the loss.
- Seek the support of a bereavement counselor. Most hospice organizations offer free counseling for families whose loved one was admitted in hospice.
- Don’t neglect your own health and needs. Eat healthy meals and get plenty of rest. Research shows that people going through bereavement experience a decrease in immune system function 6 to 9 months after the loss.
The majority of seniors are able to work through their grief and return to a place of balance in their lives. Nonetheless, for some, over time these accumulated losses can trigger depression–a medical condition which interferes with daily life and normal function. If you or an elderly loved one experience a persistent, sad, anxious or empty mood; feelings of hopelessness; decreased energy; difficulty concentrating; or thoughts of death or suicide call your doctor, 911 emergency services, or go to the nearest hospital emergency room.
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