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May 26, 2017
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Loneliness, depression can set in after death of spouse

By: Julie Ann Soukoulis
March 17, 2017

Despite popular opinion, depression and loneliness are not normal parts of aging, although many seniors experience these feelings. According to a University of Michigan study, nearly 60 percent of more than 500 seniors age 70 and older experienced some form of loneliness.

“It’s vitally important to keep older adults from falling into despair,” said Jeff Huber, president and Chief Operating Officer (COO) of the Home Instead Senior Care network. Similarly, the National Institute of Mental Health website asserts that, “Emotional experiences of sadness, grief, response to loss and temporary ‘blue’ moods are normal, but persistent depression that interferes significantly with one’s ability to function is not.”

Family members who suspect the older adults in their lives might be suffering from depression should immediately help them seek medical attention. There is now a wider-than-ever variety of medications and therapies that can significantly improve these seniors’ lives.

Help from friends and caregivers can make a difference as well. If a senior needs additional in-home support, home care organizations are there to help. Companionship and support to seniors and their families are among the most valuable yet underutilized services out there. Depending on the situation, there are support groups such as those offered by Hospice or the Alzheimer’s Association, etc. If you know someone who could benefit from support, google and see what you can find locally or call my office at (707) 586-1516 and request some resources as we are quite familiar with what is available locally.

The companionship component of a non-medical caregiver can be just as vital as the physical assistance a professional will provide. Seniors need conversation and one-on-one contact to keep their minds alert. They will drive with someone to participate in their favorite activities such as gardening, baking, woodworking, or someone to go to the grocery store or attend a concert.

Many seniors need help to get their day started. Assistance with showering, preparing breakfast and taking medications may be required. Likewise, help before bedtime, or even overnight, can be an important safety net for seniors at home who are often more apprehensive at nighttime, or who have Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. 

Often times when a spouse passes, you will see a decline in the surviving spouse’s ability to provide for themselves. This could be the effects of grieving and may well be short term, or could be transparency of which spouse was really caring for which. 

Either way, grief is real and an individual journey.

Paul and Lori Hogan, the founders of Home Instead Senior Care, said it best. “Bereavement is possibly the most trying period you will have to go through in the process of caring. Before your loved one’s death, you might have told yourself how relieved you would be when the ordeal of dying and the funeral were over. But now the funeral is over, and you may not be relieved. You are bereft, adrift, depressed and anxious.

 

The reality of grief

As your loved one declined week by week, day by day, you were saddened, but you had a role, a function. Now there are no doctors to call, no professional caregivers to interview, no nursing homes to inspect. There is no assignment, no crisis to distract you. There is emptiness. One of the greatest losses a caregiver can face is the loss of purpose. For many, caregiving has been a long and excruciating task and yet a fulfilling one that gave additional meaning to life.

In theory, the death of an elderly parent should be relatively easy for you to accept, a loss much less calamitous than that of a child or a spouse. It is, after all, the natural order of things. Most children do come to terms with the death of their parents. But it is hardly as easy as it seems theoretically for many reasons, including the feeling of helplessness at the loss of the person who may have been at your side all your life, much longer than your spouse or children.

Some survivors have to struggle with very different emotions, such as guilt over not making peace with a parent who was distant or even cruel, or even guilt because they feel relief that the alienated parent is gone.

During the grief process, many people are surprised to experience the strongest feelings they have felt in their lives –numbness, sadness, loneliness, guilt, shock, anxiety, depression, and agitation among them.

While each person’s journey of grieving is unique, there are some common emotional expressions of grief. These include sadness, loneliness, anger, guilt and blame, anxiety, and finally relief. The key is finding safe and acceptable ways to express grief so that you can move through the process, in your own way.”

 

Julie Ann Soukoulis is the owner of Home Instead Senior care office in Rohnert Park, mother of two and passionate about healthy living at all ages. Having cared for her parents, she understands your struggles and aims, through her website, www.homeinstead.com/sonoma to educate and encourage seniors and caregivers. Have a caregiving or aging concern? She’d love to hear from you at 586-1516 anytime.