As a child, I often thought that grandparents were at the best phase of life. From my perspective, adults age 65 and up had accomplished most of their life’s goals, enjoying retirement, and spending unlimited time with family and friends. Although those things may very well be true for many seniors, I think we must consider an added element associated with aging. Seniors are likely to experience more situations that cause grief.
What are some causes of grief in seniors? How often do we consider how it must feel for our parents and grandparents to lose people that they have known for as many years as we have been alive? Death is one of the main causes of grief in the senior population. The loss of mates, friends, and relatives is a common reason to grieve. The death of close connections may cause some to consider their own mortality. For many seniors, 65+, there are loss of roles. Retirement may be a goal, but it can also create a loss of purpose. Some seniors will easily pick up a hobby, but others will struggle to find a reason to get out of bed. Due to medical conditions and other impairments, seniors often lose their ability to drive and connect with others within their community. These challenges will often lead to isolation. According to the National Institute of Aging (NIA), isolation from social networks in the senior population can cause cognitive decline, depression, and other medical conditions such as heart disease.
What are signs that an elderly person in your life may be dealing with grief? Grief may look differently in each person, but some signs of grief may be a recent or upcoming loss; sadness about changes or loss of roles; brief periods of happiness amid the grief. When a grieving person is unable, after a time of adjusting to the loss, regain control and move back into a sense of normalcy, a mental health professional should be consulted to consider whether depression is a factor.
What are ways to decrease grief in our senior population? To help an elderly person who is experiencing grief, physical activity is a great start! Whether it is walking, water aerobics or stationary exercises, movement helps release the chemicals in the brain that regulate our mood. To challenge isolation, face to face contact with a support system is helpful. Seniors may even learn to video chat with the assistance of a technologically savvy family member. Some additional ideas to help cope with grief in the elderly are to maintain a well-balanced diet, restful sleep, find a hobby, connect with a senior community center, and find a professional mental health provider to provide talk therapy. Of course, these are only a few suggestions, but actively listening to the needs of your loved ones will help in supporting their recovery.
If you have a loved one who you suspect is dealing with grief, show support by providing them a safe space and time to grieve. In addition to being understanding, consider offering a combination of resources to help cope so that grief does not evolve into a more serious condition.