How to Support an Elderly Parent Who is Coping with Grief
The loss of a loved one is never easy at any age. Older adults tend to face more losses as they age and friends and family pass away over the years. No matter how many times a person has dealt with this situation, it is still difficult and emotionally taxing.
A close loss, like that of a spouse, can be extremely devastating. You will likely also be navigating grief if the departed was a loved one. Juggling your own emotions and needs as well as those of a parent can be a challenge.
Sometimes, elderly parents face losses that don’t directly affect you. For example, a friend in their assisted living community may pass away. This can also cause a spiral into depression and isolation.
Being supportive of a grieving senior requires patience, understanding, and love.
How to Recognize When a Senior Is Struggling with Grief
Everyone copes with grief in different ways. Some people show it more and some less. Some people will openly discuss what they are going through while others may bottle up emotions.
Healing from a loss takes time. You cannot rush it. However, it’s important to learn to recognize the signs that a senior is struggling with grief. Ignoring the problem can lead to bigger mental and physical health concerns. It can also affect their quality of life and even longevity.
Some of the most common signs that a senior is struggling with grief include:
- Withdrawn behavior and avoiding social interactions
- Not participating in hobbies and activities that they enjoy
- Neglecting personal health
- Poor hygiene and grooming habits
- Unexplained weight loss
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs
Seniors who do not live in an assisted living community may also have trouble paying bills on time and keeping their homes maintained. These activities are typically handled for residents in assisted living.
What Can I Do to Be Supportive of a Grieving Parent?
Most adult children want to be supportive of a grieving parent but also don’t want to overstep or push them to heal too fast. What can you do to provide support while protecting your senior loved one’s health, safety, and wellbeing?
- Be Open About Discussing Your Feelings and Theirs
If you are also experiencing a loss along with your senior parent, be open about discussing your feelings as well as theirs. Talking about what you are going through can help your parent open up.
When something triggers a memory of the departed loved one, don’t be afraid to share that memory. Talk about the things that person did or how they made you feel. Sharing will help your elderly parent feel less alone.
It isn’t easy reliving memories and dealing with outbursts of grief, but it is better to get it out into the open. This will bring both of you comfort as you learn to navigate life after a loss.
- Ask Direct Questions That Require Specific Answers
One of the most common questions that are asked when someone experiences a loss is: “How are you?”
It’s a well-meaning question, but it is not easy to answer. The grieving person may not know the appropriate way to respond. Does the person asking really want details or is it only meant as a polite greeting?
Asking direct questions that require specific answers can help a senior parent communicate. You can ask things like if they tend to miss their loved one more during a certain time of day or if a certain season makes grieving harder.
This tells your parent that you truly care and want to be there for them. It also indicates that you are looking for a deeper answer than a polite “I’m fine.”
Some people won’t discuss the loss or anything about the person who passed away to avoid upsetting loved ones. The reality is that, for most people, the loss is always on their minds. Discussing the departed can be beneficial, even if it is accompanied by sadness.
- Be Aware of Sudden Personality Changes
Grief is a powerful emotion that can lead to worrying personality changes. A senior coping with a loss may become more forgetful, disorganized, and have poor concentration.
These changes may remain for weeks or even months after the loss. If you are concerned that something more is going on, make sure your parent sees a medical or mental health professional. In the meantime, be patient and provide support to help get them back on their feet when they are ready.
- Encourage Good Health and Hygiene Habits
Health and hygiene can be affected when a senior is working through grief. Some may neglect self-care and medical needs. This will make them feel worse and can start to have a significant impact on their wellness.
Encourage good health and hygiene habits. If your parent is not receptive to your suggestions or assistance, then it may be time to talk to a professional. Grief counseling can get them in touch with someone who can provide the type of support they need or direct them to other care providers who can.
- Help Your Parent Rebuild Their Social Circle
Isolation is a serious problem for elderly people. Many start to lose friends and family as they go through life, shrinking their support network.
Rebuilding a person’s social circle can become harder as they age. Some develop medical conditions or mobility limitations that make it difficult to go out and meet new people. Many seniors don’t know where to go to meet their peers.
Learning how to build your social circle in assisted living can help a senior cope with grief. New connections provide human interaction and improve mental health.
- Plan Ahead for Gatherings, Events, and Holidays
Gatherings, events, and holidays can be especially difficult for a grieving parent. Not only are these occasions reminders that their loved one is gone, but they can also bring up discussions and questions that are difficult to answer.
Planning ahead can make these events easier. Ask your parent if there is anything they would like to do to honor the departed, like reading a special poem, displaying a photograph, or lighting a candle.
- Acknowledge Important Days Over the Years
The initial loss of a loved one weighs heavy. Learning to do things without them during the first year can feel like climbing a mountain. However, many discover that the second year after a loss is even harder.
This is primarily because others stop discussing the loss. They are putting less or no effort into providing support and comfort. Many people go back to their daily lives and stop checking in as much as they did.
Some people assume that the second year gets easier, which often isn’t the case. They may be more reluctant to ask for help since time has passed since the loss.
Grief also tends to change over time, which means your loved one may need to find different ways to manage it during the second year.
One thing you can do to help them is to continue acknowledging important days, even years after the loss. Taking time to visit, make a phone call, or send a letter or greeting card can make a difference.
- Be Patient and Help Your Parent Form Connections
Be patient and help your parent form connections with those around them. Show support and be prepared to talk about the loss. If your parent lives independently, it may be time to consider senior care. These 5 ways that assisted living helps families of seniors is a good start.
There is no quick and easy way around grief. It’s something we all face, no matter our age. If you are also experiencing a loss, make sure you take care of yourself as well as your parent. Together, you can face the days ahead and rediscover life with joy, happiness, and love.