Have you recently lost a loved one or are having difficulty with the passing of a loved one?
Have you had exacerbated
feelings of grief, loneliness, or are overwhelmed with sadness?
Are you having a hard time moving forward in life?
Grieving a loss is a process. Inspire Senior Care can help.
The 9 Stages Of Grief In Older Adults
As we age, grieving the loss of a loved one can become a common occurrence. Even those that are typically stronger at heart may have a difficult time coming to terms with the reality that we live through many losses, and it’s important to support the older adults in our life as they experience grief and loss. As the first line of support, family members have an important role to play in helping our loved ones grieve. However, many of us can’t relate to what they’re going through. Our staff at Inspire Senior Care are dedicated to the realities that face many seniors that we ourselves have yet to come by in life.
Grief is different for everyone, but your grieving loved one is likely to experience some or all the typical stages of grief. Here are the 9 stages of grief, what to expect, and what you can do to help your loved one grieve in a healthy and constructive way.
What’s happening? Typically, shock and denial present themselves in the days immediately following an event. In this stage, the mind evokes a protective response to traumatic events. One might feel numb, presenting almost no tears and emotions. This is accompanied by disbelief wherein you might deny reality for a short period of time. While this behavior is confusing to watch, it’s very normal in this stage of grief.
What can you do? This is a time to offer emotional support. Allow some space, but let the grieving party know you’re there for them. Offer yourself as someone to talk to, so they can begin to process reality.
What’s happening? As denial fades and the reality of a traumatic event sets in, your loved one might begin to “check out” from the ordinary processes of life. They can become fixated on the loss and abandon routines such as cleanliness, household responsibilities, and typical social activities. Disorganization can be confused as dementia
What can you do? Encourage them to seek out natural systems of support. This might be family, friends, or a church community. Allow them to speak about loss on their own terms. Oftentimes, they might want to seek out social interaction without the burden of explaining their grief.
What’s happening? This stage is expressed through a feeling of resentment or loss of control. Anger associated with grief is not often expressed through outbursts of emotion. Instead, you’ll notice a consistently agitated demeanor. They’ll feel hurt and frustrated and misdirect that anger towards those around them.
What can you do? Give them space to express their emotions. Recognize that the frustration they’re expressing is not often rational, let them know it is a natural psychological response to the grief they’re experiencing. In this stage, patience is key. This behavior will pass with time.
4. Guilt and Bargaining:
What’s happening? Guilt and bargaining can often coincide with the “anger” stage of grief. Those experiencing guilt and bargaining will often try to put the blame on themselves and others. They tended to argue or bargain about what they could have done differently and then that would not have happened. They might also make appeals to religion, asking God to bring a loved one back or attempting to bargain with God.
What can you do? In this scenario, it is good to encourage your loved one to find support from a clinician or other respected third party. Clinicians like those at Inspire Senior Care can help your loved one understand the reality of the situation, take the blame off of themselves and others, and begin to think constructively. Talking to a clinician can be a life-changing experience for those coping with grief. As your loved one tries to rationalize their emotions, a neutral party can direct them towards healthy coping behaviors.
5. Physical or Emotional Distress:
What’s happening? This stage of grief can potentially be dangerous to the affected person’s physical and emotional health. Oftentimes, grieving individuals will begin to feel a sense of hopelessness. As they see others around them move on with daily life, they might begin to think that nobody cares about them. They might present symptoms such as shortness of breath and tightness of the throat associated with anxiety. This stage is also characterized by poor appetite, lack of energy, unfavorable sleeping habits, and can also cause digestive problems.
What can you do? Remind your grieving loved one that you are there for them. Then, make sure to ask if they are eating, sleeping, exercising, and drinking water. Their grief might cause them to neglect their own physical health, which will only make their condition worse. Good sleep, exercise, and diet are amongst the most important things they can be doing to improve their mental health.
What’s happening? Keep in mind that depression can come hand in hand with the symptoms mentioned in the “physical and emotional distress” stage. Depression resulting from grief is characterized by a sense of unbearable self-pity. Despair caused by hopelessness will take hold and signs of depression may be evident.
What can you do? When your loved one is depressed, always keep an eye out for threats of self-harm or suicide. In this case, it would be best to seek help from a qualified third party immediately. You might suggest a checkup with their primary care provider, who can refer your loved one to a psychologist or clinician. Otherwise, make sure your loved ones are eating, exercising, and sleeping.
7. Loss and Loneliness:
What’s happening? This is the most painful stage of grief in older adults. This stage will often occur 2-4 weeks after the event as the reality of the loss sets in. As your loved one comes to terms with their situation, they might see regular problems in their life in a new light. Issues that used to be routine or small will be amplified. For example, someone who has struggled with high cholesterol for years without major complaints might make their high cholesterol into an existential and insurmountable issue without reason. They might also begin to find ways to fill the void that loss and grief has created. “Filling the void” can be done in both constructive and destructive ways.
What can you do? In this stage, remind your loved one of the natural networks of support they have in their community. This can be things like friends, family, church gatherings, or VA meetings that give them a sense of support. If your loved one has a history of substance abuse, this is the time to watch for that behavior. In the stage of loss and loneliness, it is common for those with substance abuse issues to relapse and “fill the void” with drugs and alcohol.
What’s happening? Withdrawal is characterized by the complete detachment from regular social ties. At this stage, one is likely tired of explaining their loss to those around them. As a result, they avoid social interaction and regular community events that they would otherwise indulge in.
What can you do? At this time, allow your loved one to speak without having to explain their loss. If they are not ready to engage with others and are just lacking a lust for life, suggest that they speak with a social worker. A professional can allow them to speak about their feelings and suggest ways for them to engage socially with others.
What’s happening? This is the final stage of grief. The mental and physical ability to resume to previous behaviors and life are beginning to return. In order to start filling this void your loved one might pick up new hobbies and return to old ones, start to talk about their loved one without grief, or reach out to friends and family. Regardless, they have realized that life goes on and have begun to find joy on their own. What can you do? Encourage constructive behavior. Play to their interests and suggest activities that will bring them joy. This might be something as simple as seeing a new movie starring one of their favorite actors. Recognize that this experience has likely changed them as a person, and welcome those changes to their outlook on life