Helping older adults who are grieving
Older adults express their grief in the same ways as younger and middle-aged adults. However, because of their age and other life circumstances, older adults may:
o Experience several losses within a short period of time. Older adults are more likely than other adults to lose more than one friend or family member within a short period of time. This can cause them to grieve the losses at the same time or grieve over a long period of time. It may also cause them to feel overwhelmed, numb, or have a hard time expressing their grief.
o Not be aware that they are grieving. Older adults experience losses related to aging. They may need to give up roles within their family. They may lose physical strength and stamina. They may feel sad and experience other signs of grieving without knowing that they are grieving.
o Be unwilling to tell other people that they are grieving. Older adults may not tell others that they are grieving losses related to aging. They may also be unwilling to tell other people how sad they feel when they see or care for older loved ones who are ill or aging.
o Have long-term illnesses, including physical and mental disabilities that interfere with their ability to grieve.
o Lack the support system they once had. Older adults who depended on their spouses or other family members for social contact may lack a support system after their spouses die or other family members move away or die. These older adults may feel lonely and think that they have no one to confide in.
How can I help an older adult who is grieving?
Ways you can help an older adult who is grieving include:
o Giving the person time. Sometimes older adults need more time to become aware of their feelings and express them. Sometimes they need more time to complete other activities as well. Giving an older person extra time shows that you are concerned and respectful of the person's needs.
o Pointing out signs of sadness or changes in behavior. This may help the person become aware of his or her feelings and may help the person feel more comfortable talking with you about how he or she feels.
o Spending time with the person. An older adult who often seems to be alone can benefit from your company. Invite him or her to go for a walk or have a cup of coffee. Feelings of loneliness may last for a long time when an older adult has lost something or someone special, especially a spouse.
o Talking about the loss. Ask the person to talk about his or her loss. Older people, especially those who have experienced several losses over a short period of time, are often helped by sharing memories of the lost person.
o Watching for signs of prolonged grieving or depression. If you have concerns that an older adult is having difficulty working through his or her grieving, talk with a health professional.
o Older adults often have more than one loss to deal with at a time. Talking about each separate loss may help identify the person's feelings. Separating losses from one another may also help the person feel less overwhelmed and more able to cope with emotional distress.