Losing someone you love is difficult to deal with and deeply distressing no matter what stage of life you find yourself in, but going through the stages of mourning and grief can be especially harrowing for seniors, affecting both their mental and physical health in important and meaningful ways. As we grow older and enter the later stages of life, death and bereavement become more frequent visitors as the loss of loved-ones and friends occurs more and more often. We all understand grief and loss as things that are difficult to navigate, but it is important to be aware of the specific set of ways in which seniors can be affected by the feelings that come along with losing a loved-one.
Potential Health Implications of Grief
The emotions that come along with the loss of someone we love can be overwhelming, and can reach out to impact numerous aspects of seniors’ health and their ability to engage fully and happily in their lives. Research has indicated that a seniors’ immune systems can be compromised in notable ways when they are dealing with grief, as important white blood cells responsible for warding off and fighting bacteria are weakened, making seniors in mourning more susceptible to infections and illnesses. With regards to mental and emotional health, depression often accompanies grief, and seniors may experience 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 incredibly overwhelming and difficult to manage. The list that follows is comprised of other symptoms, feelings, and experiences that may come along with a loss:
- Changes in Eating Habits (Increase or Decrease in Appetite)
- Difficulty Concentrating
- Emotional Numbness
- Feelings of Anger Towards the Deceased for Leaving
- Feelings of Guilt for Still Being Alive While Someone Else is No Longer Living
- Trouble Sleeping
In circumstances where the person who has passed away is a spouse or other housemate, seniors may feel both emotionally devastated and entirely overwhelmed by the lack of decisions that will come concerning how to move forward with regards to all aspects of home life that were once shared with a companion.
Supporting Seniors Dealing with Grief
Particularly when it comes to the elderly, surrendering to grief and allowing oneself to retreat further and deeper into sadness can happen quickly and easily, so it is incredibly important that caregivers and loved-ones of seniors experiencing a loss offer meaningful support and reassurance so that seniors do not lose hope and can work towards getting back to a more healthful and happy life. The following is a list of some strategies to keep in mind when helping seniors to cope with and adjust to the new realities that follow a loss:
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.
- 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 steps of their lives.
- 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 turmoil.
- 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.
- Remain Connected: Instead of growing isolated and allowing oneself to be lost completely in grief, seniors should attempt to stay connected to the friends and family members that are still living.
- Seek Community Support: Numerous support groups exist in Ottawa that can offer support to seniors as they work through the process of bereavement in a community setting, through the sharing of experiences with those who have shared similar experiences.
The processes of grieving and bereavement will bring about a whole host of different emotions that may be different each and every day, often from moment-to-moment. The knowledge that there is support available from friends, family, communities, and professional care providers in Ottawa can help seniors to realize and remember that there is still hope for fulfillment and happiness, even after the loss of someone who has been deeply special and important in their lives.