Grief: Helping Older Adults With Grief

Overview

Older adults may not experience or express grief in the same way as other adults.

  • Older adults often have many major losses within a short period of time. For example, an older adult who loses a partner may suffer many losses, including financial security, a best friend, and social contacts.
  • The natural aging process brings many losses, such as loss of independence and physical strength.
  • What is considered a minor loss may bring memories and feelings about a previous greater loss.

How can you help an older adult who is grieving?

Here are some ways you can help an older adult who is grieving.

  • Spend time with the person.

    An older adult who often seems to be alone can benefit from your company. Invite them 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.

  • Give 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.

  • Point out signs of sadness or changes in behavior.

    This may help the person become aware of their feelings and may help the person feel more comfortable talking with you.

  • Talk about the loss.
    • Ask the person to talk about their loss. Older people are often helped by sharing memories of the lost person.
    • 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.
  • Watch for signs of depression.

    If you have concerns that an older adult is showing signs of depression, talk with a health professional.

Credits

Current as of: October 18, 2021

Author: Healthwise Staff
Medical Review:
Anne C. Poinier MD - Internal Medicine
Adam Husney MD - Family Medicine
Jean S. Kutner MD, MSPH - Geriatric Medicine, Hospice and Palliative Medicine
Kathleen Romito MD - Family Medicine

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