The emotional anguish and devastating sadness that accompanies a loss can influence both the mental and physical health of seniors in significant ways.
As we continue to grow older, dealing with death and bereavement becomes something we have to do more and more often as the loss of loved-ones and friends happens more and more frequently when those loved-ones are also growing older and moving into the later stages of their lives. We all know that grief and loss are feelings and experiences that are hard to work through, but it is important to be aware of the particular ways in which seniors can be touched by the emotions, feelings, and thoughts that accompany the loss of someone they love.
The Health Implications of Grief
The thoughts, feelings, and emotions that we face when we lose someone important to us can be debilitating, devastating, and overwhelming, extending to impact numerous aspects of health as well as our ability to engage fully and joyfully in everyday life. Research has shown that seniors’ immune systems can be compromised in notable ways when they are experiencing grief, as important white blood cells responsible for fighting off bacteria are weakened, making seniors in mourning more susceptible to infections and illnesses. In terms of mental and emotional health, depression is often a natural companion of grief, and seniors may face feelings of hopelessness and sadness that feel as though they will never end. Taking part in even the most routine and mundane of tasks can feel overwhelming and difficult to manage. The list that follows are some other symptoms, feelings, and experiences that may come along with a loss:
- Trouble Sleeping
- Feelings of Guilt for Still Being Alive While Someone Else is No Longer Living
- Feelings of Anger Towards the Deceased for Leaving
- Emotional Numbness
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Changes in Eating Habits (Increase or Decrease in Appetite)
In situations where the person who has passed away is a spouse or other housemate, seniors may feel both emotionally devastated and overwhelmed by the many of decisions that will have to be made related to how to move forward in terms of 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 quickly and easily, so it is deeply important that caregivers and loved-ones of seniors who are facing a loss provide support and reassurance so that seniors do not lose hope and can work towards getting back to a more healthful and happy state of being. The following is a list of some strategies to keep in mind when helping seniors cope with and adjust to the new realities that follow a loss:
- Remain Connected: Instead of becoming isolated and allowing oneself to be drowned completely in grief, seniors should try to stay connected to the friends and family members that are still living.
- Introduce Change Slowly: If lifestyle or other changes need to be made to accommodate the loss of a companion, make sure that these changes happen gradually to make things less overwhelming and more manageable.
- Seek Community Support: Support groups exist in the North and West Vancouver area that can offer support to seniors as they process their grief and bereavement in a community setting, through the sharing of thoughts and conversations with those who have shared similar experiences.
- Consider New Forms of 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.
- Create Healthy Distractions: Pursuing involvement in hobbies, activities, or groups can help to create distractions from feelings of sadness, foster connectedness, and offer opportunities for the building of positive emotions. Seniors can try volunteering, engaging in part-time work, trying a new creative hobby, taking part in a class, or getting involved in an interest group.
- Don’t Forget the Basics: Make sure that patterns of sleeping, exercising, eating, taking medications, medical appointments, and other elements essential to good health are attended to and don’t become neglected or entirely overshadowed by emotional distress.
- 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, and begin to think about the next phases of their lives.
The realities of grief and bereavement spark many different emotions that may vary each and every day, often from moment-to-moment. Knowing that there is support available from friends, family, communities, and professional care providers in North and West Vancouver can help seniors to remember that hope for fulfillment and happiness still exists, even after the loss of someone who has been inexplicably important and loved by them.