While we like to focus on the positive aspects of aging, the reality is that saying goodbye plays a significant role in our jobs. Loss is a part of life, and in the senior living industry. Part of your job as a caregiver is helping residents through the grieving process when they lose a friend, family member or spouse.
You’re probably already well acquainted with the five stages of grief–Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and finally Acceptance. You’re probably also aware that the grieving process isn’t a checklist that follows a straight path.
In seniors, grief can manifest in different ways than in their younger counterparts–and it can, on occasion, be fatal.
“After my mother died, dad was understandably depressed. He lost his co-pilot and was never really himself again,” says Valissa Smith whose father passed away 9 months after her mother died of cancer. “My sisters and I checked in on him daily, fixed dinner for him often, took him on outings when he would go. But after 63 years of married, he didn’t know how to function without her.”According to a 2013 study by the Harvard School of Public Health, widowed seniors over the age of 50 have a 66 percent increased risk of dying within the first three months after their spouse’s passing. Here are some signs to watch for that indicate a resident may need additional support with the grieving process:
- Increased forgetfulness and disorganization
- Inability to concentrate
- Lack of interest in hobbies and activities they’ve previously enjoyed
- Uncharacteristically angry outbursts
- A fascination or obsession with death
- A loss of appetite and/or weight loss
Valissa, who works at SeniorVu, a lead generation and marketing automation company in Kansas City says her father showed all but one of the above symptoms. “His concentration was the worst. Look, this was a man who was a bank president for 30 years, then managed farm land until he was 91. After mom died, he gave it up. He just couldn’t focus anymore.”
SeniorVu prides itself on matching seniors with the best senior living community to meet their needs. Finding a community that not only understands the physical needs of a senior but honors and nurtures their emotional needs too, is something SeniorVu has found to be important to their clients.
“The senior living industry is very personal to all of us at SeniorVu. When we are working with seniors helping them find a new home, we can hear our father’s voice or our grandmother’s voice,” says Valissa. “We want to find them a community that cares about them too.”As caregivers, you and your team can play a big role in helping your residents grieve. Some tips:
- Be there to just listen. Allow the resident opportunities to share stories about their loved one, or talk about how they’re feeling. A kind, listening ear can do a world of good for a hurting heart.
- Encourage them to take care of themselves. By eating right, exercising, taking time to enjoy their favorite activities and simply talk with caregivers and friends. Make sure your residents are continuing to take their medication, too.
- Offer grief support services. Whether with a grief counselor or an informal support group. If the resident doesn’t feel ready to talk face-to-face with someone, online support groups and chat rooms may be a helpful solution. It helps to know their feelings are normal.
One of the wonderful aspects of your senior living community is the community. Your residents are surrounded by not just caring staff, but by supportive friends as well. As always, fellow residents can play a big role in helping grieving individuals feel loved and cared for. Just knowing that they are not alone can help grieving seniors heal following the loss of a loved one.