Helping Your Senior Loved One Manage Aging-Related Loss
What if you woke up tomorrow and couldn’t see or hear? What if you couldn’t remember who you were? What if you suffered the loss of family and friends close to you? These aren’t just plots from tearjerker movies. These events are sometimes real and heartbreaking for the elderly.
The aging process, unfortunately, is not always ideal. Getting older has been referred to as “a succession of losses.” Age-related loss can range from deafness to dementia to the death of a good friend. Age-related loss is hard to handle, but you can help a senior loved one avoid harm and find some peace by recognizing and managing the process of grief.
The Stages of Grief
The process of coping with a loss is called grief. In psychology, the five stages of grief are:
- Denial and Isolation
These are well-observed patterns of behavior that people move through as they process and accept losing something or someone important. Loss can come in all forms, and the elderly must grieve just like others. Recognizing these stages as they occur may help you relate to a senior loved one.
Losses in Old Age
Seniors face a complex series of losses, unlike those of younger generations. They may lose independence and the ability to determine their own activities to give their everyday lives structure and purpose. They will suffer the loss of friends and family, maybe a husband or wife.
A particularly tough loss is the gradual slipping away of one’s own body. Seniors must face losing their sight, hearing, mobility, and even their memory and cognitive functions. These are frightening prospects and difficult events to process. It is easy to feel useless or burdensome.
Sadly, some seniors may endure the unnecessary trauma of abuse. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60 and above have experienced some form of elder abuse. The elderly, just like everyone else, can be seriously wounded by abuse and suffer the associated effects of depression, anxiety, and fear.
Working Through Age-Related Loss
Many seniors fall prey to the potential dangers of the grieving process. Symptoms of a malfunctioning attempt to cope and grieve may include substance abuse, depression, self-harm, and anger.
For example, the first stage of grief is to deny that anything is wrong, and to isolate oneself to avoid reminders. Such solitude isn’t healthy, and it compounds the loneliness and isolation many seniors already face. It can jeopardize effective communication with loved ones, who may not realize anything is wrong until a serious problem develops.
Depression, as well, is a particular problem for the elderly. World Health Organization studies indicate:
- Almost 7% of the world’s elderly population suffers from depression
- Nearly 4% of the elderly suffer from anxiety disorders
- Almost 25% of all deaths from self-harm or suicide occur from those aged 60 or above.
Clearly, the elderly have as much, if not more, difficulty coping and grieving than the rest of the population. What can be done to assist?
Helping Seniors Cope with Loss
The process for recovery is the same as for anyone experiencing grief:
- Maintain their overall health
Make sure your loved one is eating right, sleeping enough, exercising, and avoiding drugs and alcohol as self-medication. Exercise in particular has a powerful ability to combat depression and lift spirits, as well as empower and focus the mind.
- Watch over their emotional health
It’s important, when dealing with grief, to speak about it or write it down if necessary. Make sure your loved one is doing something they enjoy once in a while.
- Get them to accept care, without being in the way
It is healing to be taken care of, listened to and understood while processing a loss. Sometimes it may be difficult to provide these things, particularly to someone who isn’t ready to admit it yet, but the need is still there. Do what you can.
- Help them accept the situation and move on
A paper published in the British Medical Journal suggests that aging should be understood as a transition: it comes with some losses but also some gains. Help your loved one focus on the good in retirement, hobbies, travel, and other interests. This may mitigate the impact of loss.
Here are some additional articles about age-related loss:
On Loss and Grief
How to Talk About Hearing Loss