How to Care for Your Aging Loved One After the Death of a Spouse – guest post by Richard Wright

How to Care for Your Aging Loved One After the Death of a Spouse

Hands

 

 

 

 

 

 

Image via Pixabay

We understand death for the first time when he puts his hand upon one whom we love.” – Madame de Stael

As we age, we will inevitably experience the difficult process of saying goodbye to the people we love. Grandparents and parents, sisters and brothers, friends and sometimes even children pass away, and we are left with only the memories we’ve made with them. While each loss is difficult, there are few things that hurt more than the death of the person with whom you’ve chosen to spend your life. With the death of a spouse, you’ve lost your partner, your lover, and your best friend in one fell swoop.

Spousal bereavement can be especially difficult for senior citizens for a number of reasons. In addition to the fact that many seniors have spent the majority of their lives with their spouse, the emotions triggered by the death of a loved one can be more pronounced for the aging population.

Like anyone else, a senior citizen who has just lost his or her spouse will experience a range of emotions. Throughout the mourning process, your loved one may feel angry, resentful, scared, sad, and/or numb. These feelings can manifest with changes in behavior like trouble sleeping and eating, difficulty making decisions, or loss of concentration. To make it worse, senior couples who have become one another’s primary caregivers are faced with allowing someone else to care for them and their home.

For most people, including seniors, the intensity of grief and it’s physical symptoms lessen over time. While there is no universally-accepted grieving period, feelings of sadness do eventually subside. A new normal takes hold, and the surviving spouse learns to function physically and emotionally without their spouse. For some, however, depression sets in. In this case, symptoms of grief remain.

Because seniors are already at a higher risk of becoming socially isolated, they are also more likely to experience prolonged depression after the loss of a spouse. Moreover, the associated loneliness can become a major health risk. Seniors dealing with the death of a spouse experience a higher risk of both suicide and dementia, as well as a reduced life expectancy. They can become inactive and withdrawn. They are also more likely to participate in risky health behavior, including drug and alcohol use, especially if they have a history of substance abuse or addiction.

In order to minimize these symptoms and avoid the negative consequences, it is important for the friends and family members of the surviving spouse to step in immediately. From the logistical aspects of planning a funeral to the day-to-day tasks of bathing, grooming, and taking care of oneself, a grieving widow or widower may need assistance. You should make big life changes, like moving into an assisted living facility, gradually. Many times, simply spending time with your bereaved loved one will help them form new routines not involving their late spouse and preventing them from feeling alone.

Most importantly, you should keep an eye out for symptoms of continuing grief, substance abuse, and major depressive disorder in your loved one. If you do notice signs of severe of worsening depression, you should take action immediately. Encourage your loved one to talk about their feelings with a grief support group, counselor, or pastor.

Finally, it’s worth noting that supporting a loved one isn’t easy, especially if you’re also dealing with the loss of a parent or close family member. You will likely experience the same range of emotions, and you may need to take time away from being a caregiver to focus on your own healing process. If that’s the case, don’t be afraid to ask for help.

 

Ed: Thank you Richard for this very useful summary of approaches to grief in older people after the death of a spouse. It’s important not just for sheer humanitarian reasons but also because unresolved grief can also lead to the death of the survivor. This Daily Mail (newspaper) article is backed up by research* and suggests the risk to be around 66% in the three months following a spousal bereavement. It’s also worth being aware of the possibility that an unexplained grief is due to the loss of someone the individual has never spoken about. A first love, perhaps, the ‘one that got away’, a same-sex relationship, a covert relationship that may or may not have been fully or partially expressed. Babyboomers are creeping into this age group and while some might be accustomed to openness about relationships, for others this might be enormously difficult. People of the WW11 era may find it almost impossible. We’re complicated folk, us humans, and we have complicated lives so we need to remember that losses may not be straightforward either.  If someone is depressed and it looks like grief but there’s no obvious cause, trying carefully to understand what that might be about may be better than reaching for the antidepressants. A talking option with an appropriately trained counsellor may be a good route. As relatives, we may also need to be ready to accept the idea that there was another person in our parent’s life. 

*The Effect of Widowhood on Mortality by the Causes of Death of Both Spouses

 

 

 

 

 

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Guest Post – Healthy Aging Tips for Seniors by Jim Vogel

Healthy Aging Tips For Seniors

by Jim Vogel of Elder Action

How Having a Hobby Can Cultivate Mental Wellbeing

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Courtesy of Pixabay

As we age, we sometimes forget the things that once sparked joy in our lives. Having a hobby is so important, not only because it makes your life more enjoyable, but it also impacts your mental agility. The best way to find a new hobby is to simply try something new. Thankfully, there are endless opportunities that will keep you occupied while enriching your life. If you or someone you know is a senior who could use a bit of help in this arena, here are some easy tips that will help you stay focused and live with more passion.

 Make Time

According to Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average person spends at least 44 minutes engaged in a leisure activity. Regardless of how you use your time, it’s important to use it wisely. Consider letting go of what isn’t serving you, such as endless chores, clutter, and other types of activities that don’t spark your interest. Increase the amount of quality time that can be better spent with those you love or harness, while harnessing a skill rather than being tethered to technology all day.

Constantly being glued to your devices can lead to depression and sadness and may also trigger disengagement, according to Forbes. Lighten your load, learn to just say no to some obligations and ignore unnecessary tasks so that you make room for more pleasurable experiences that will better serve you. Cleaning and other non-essentials can wait.

A Happy Medium

Hobbies are found to be beneficial in relieving stress, challenging yourself, building a community and offering a new perspective, while keeping you present. Since seniors are more prone to isolation, hobbies are a great way to slow down and enjoy things that you really love to do. Whether it’s gardening, painting, listening to music or woodworking, finding a fun task stimulates the brain, which releases endorphins that can pique your curiosity.

Harnessing a hobby also gives seniors who are participating in addiction recovery from drugs and alcohol, relief from the everyday stressors of life and heightens self-esteem. Additionally, hobbies can also be meditative, especially if it’s an activity that is quiet and repetitive, like crocheting and puzzles.

Trying something new opens up your mind and sets you up for meeting individuals with the same interests, leading more insight into ourselves making a statement through a beautiful work of art.

Find Inspiration In Unlikely Places 

There is a misconception that elderly people are stuck in their ways, but this couldn’t be further from the truth, as many elderly people, at least by today’s standards are charting out their own lives and cultivating hobbies that are meaningful to them.  One rule of finding your passion is to simply get out there and look at what’s going on in the world. Sometimes you’ll find inspiration in unlikely places that will set the tone for what you’ve been looking for all along. Finding inspiration will also help you to think outside the box, which will boost creativity.

Journaling, exercising outdoors, meditation and making time to dream are all great ways to stimulate your mental wellbeing. Even if you aren’t sure what hobby suits you, looking to your past can prove to be a major benefit, allowing discernment into your true nature. Perhaps there’s something you enjoyed as a child that is sitting dormant within you. Finding a hobby is like finding a best friend. It’s something that we all should participate in, regardless of age. Not all hobbies are the same, but by taking the time to figure out what lights you up, you’ll change your life for the better.

Handy Links

6 Powerful Ways To Help Seniors Avoid Isolation

It can be difficult for seniors to maintain their social lives as they age, especially if they live alone. This is a great resource for supporting them to stay active socially.

Ed. Social isolation and loneliness is a killer. Many older people feel the sudden loss of work colleagues and a role in life and become withdrawn if they can’t find a new way to be valued in retirement. On the other hand, a sense of purpose – or ikigai as the Japanese call it – can not only improve well being but may even prolong good quality life. My recommendation as a senior myself? Find a way to engage with younger generations rather than sitting in an elderly silo. Encourage local schools, businesses, community groups, to make use of what you can offer. Get involved!

 

Home Modifications Increase Senior Safety

This is a given – it’s important for our elders to make sure their homes are a safe environment.

Ed. There are going to be differences of provision in different countries, and key differences in the funding available to help with modifications. Might be an idea to familiarise yourself with these before you need them.

 

16 Chair Exercises for Seniors & How to Get Started

This is great – it’s got exercises for people of all abilities, and even includes helpful videos.

Ed. Loving these! I’m not there yet, in fact I took up running at the age of 67 after realising how much time I was spending sitting on my bottom writing and an almost immediate result (maintained since) included a reduced resting heart rate – down from 70+ to 55-60. Yes, I have a FitBit!

 

9 Essential Mobile Device Apps for Senior Citizens

This explains the kinds of apps seniors should have on their mobile devices rather than listing specific apps which may or may not stick around.

EdNot exactly a mobile app although the app does sit on phones – I’m a fan of the Alexa  powered devices (some personal tips here) which can read Audible books, set timers, alarms and multiple reminders, give me news updates, play any station in the world (as long as I can pronounce it!), and on some (the Show) give me visuals too. All without touching a thing. Change the station or ask the time or the weather or set an oven or exercise timer while you’re up to your armpits in something messy? No problem – just yell at Alexa and she’ll have it covered. It’s not available in all countries yet, and nor is Google Home, the newer kid on the block, but it’s coming for sure.  Admittedly it can be a little bit obtuse at times and rather more cat than gizmo! 

 

Building The Ultimate Reading Nook For Your Home: A Guide For Bookworms

Jim: My mother loves to read and hosts a monthly book club – she actually referred me to this great resource. Actually, it’s been a great way for her and my dad to avoid feelings of isolation!

Ed. I took an MA in Creative Writing so now I’m trying to put out the material that might end up in someone’s reading nook. Hope springs eternal …!

 

Whitcliffe Mount School

 

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In a brief deviation from my blog’s usual content, this post is about saving an old building. Whitcliffe Mount School was funded and built by the people of Cleckheaton at the turn of the last century, having been denied a secondary school by the then Education Authority. They built it on top of a hill and negotiated the rights to the rich coal seams that ran beneath so it could never be undermined – that’s how much they cared about the education of their children in this west Yorkshire working class town. From the start, there was equal access for girls to this school, and its ethic, to promote community and character in its pupils, is evidenced by this quote from its first headmaster in 1909:

“This School is foremost a society of staff and pupils, wherein a corporate life has to be developed, implying individual and mutual responsibilities of character and behaviour, of work and achievements. If pupils are turned out clean in thought and speech, with a sincere love of character and effort…with a power of skilful work…and a determination to serve as intelligent citizens, the school will achieve what I believe was the cherished aim of those who laboured to establish it.” Joshua Holden.

In a series of moves, often obscure, obfuscated, and difficult to follow, the local council has prevented the building from being Listed and scheduled its demolition without consideration of repurposing options. The developers are paying nothing for it; it has been handed over in return for ‘its materials’. The area will become a grass verge.

The local people are trying to resist. Developers willing to consider repurposing have been found and the council has agreed to a meeting, which would be a sign of some meeting of minds were it not for the fact that the date is some weeks after the keys are to be handed over.  There have been petitions and protests but the lack of clarity persists, and the schedule seems unperturbed. In a last ditch effort, Spen Valley Civic Society – the thrust behind much of the work towards preservation – has written to HRH Prince Charles. The letter is reproduced* here:

Whitcliffe Mount School was founded and built at the turn of the last century, funded entirely by the donations of the working class population of Cleckheaton for the education of their children and as such, is unique as being the only state school founded by the will of the people and not arising from the direct policy of a responsible Education Authority. Despite local objections and the availability of repurposing options, it is about to be demolished and replaced by a grass verge. We are desperately hoping at this last minute to recruit the support of His Royal Highness in halting this process until a full and open public debate can be held.

This is the building in question, an outstanding example of its kind designed by William Henry Thorp F.R.I.B.A , many of whose other works are Listed. Founded in 1908, it accepted girls in equal numbers to boys from the start and placed value on community and personal development as this quote from the first headmaster makes clear and its motto, Justly, Skilfully, Magnanimously emphasises:

“This School is foremost a society of staff and pupils, wherein a corporate life has to be developed, implying individual and mutual responsibilities of character and behaviour, of work and achievements. If pupils are turned out clean in thought and speech, with a sincere love of character and effort…with a power of skilful work…and a determination to serve as intelligent citizens, the school will achieve what I believe was the cherished aim of those who laboured to establish it.” First headmaster, Mr Joshua Holden.

Below is a brief summary of the school’s inception, its character, and the reasons so many people wish to halt plans for its destruction. A more detailed supporting document is attached, along with scanned images from the book ‘Justly, Skilfully, Magnanimously’ (1957) of its earliest pupil rolls.

Whitcliffe School arose from a technical institute in Cleckheaton after the local Education authority determined that the area of Spen Valley should have only one secondary school, which was to be based in Heckmondwike. Prominent local people worked to accrue funds, many others made donations, William Henry Thorp F.R.I.B.A. was commissioned as architect, and the first sod was cut in 1909. Critically, the rights to rich coal seams running beneath the site were negotiated in order to prevent undermining, thereby demonstrating the priority given to education.

It became a grammar school in 1928, state funded in 1944, and in 1973, a comprehensive. It has had an excellent reputation throughout.

In 2014, the governing council, Kirklees, undertook reviews of several schools in the area in conjunction with a Private Finance Initiative (PFI) with a view to redevelopment. Whitcliffe was one of these and despite local protests, this is currently the plan. Dissatisfaction with the process is founded on many issues, including the way in which the Foundation building was rendered ineligible for Listing despite its history, soundness, and architectural value; the lack of any discussion about alternative use; and the disturbing fact that the developers, Laing O’Rourke, are able to demolish the Foundation Building in return for the value of just its materials. While Skill may be involved in some of these actions, there does not appear to be any sign of either Justice or Magnanimity.

Thus, a fine building, paid for by local people in the face of Education Authority opposition and with architectural value, is to be demolished without consideration of re-purposing, its price just the materials of which it is composed and its replacement a grass verge. That much of the process has taken place in closed meetings and with poor engagement of local people is exemplified by the now urgent fact that a meeting to discuss the matter of alternative use and the developers able and willing to buy and convert the building into apartments, is scheduled, by the Council, to take place after the building has been handed over to the developers on August 24th.

If His Royal Highness were to take an interest in this travesty, we would be more hopeful that a better solution may be reached.

If you are local to the area and have an interest in preserving this building in recognition of its architectural and social value, the Civic Society would appreciate your support. If you are Prince Charles or an influential member of his entourage, you would be welcomed and welcomed and welcomed if you should chose to intervene.

 

*Pre-post version. May have been edited prior to sending.

 

 

Down’s Syndrome and Alzheimer’s Dementia

screen clip of research paperIt’s a dreadful double whammy – people with Down’s are much more at risk of developing Alzheimer’s due to the extra strand of chromosome that causes Down’s in the first place.  Better healthcare and support means many more people are living into older age (in the early 1900s, most didn’t survive beyond 12 years), enjoying more life opportunities than ever before – including acting, gigging, (check out Heavy Load – I knew several of them!) and hitting the clubs and festivals  supported by friends, family, and the likes of Gig Buddies and the Stay Up Late campaign.

But the tragedy of dementia lurks and threatens to peel away the thin layer of icing on their newly risen cake.  What a prospect: a newly realised good quality life expectancy with the almost 100% risk of it all ending in such a dreadful mire of memory and personality loss.

So where is the upside? It’s here: with a population so at risk and a clearly identifiable strand of genetic material to look at, there’s the possibility of finely tuned research into the disease and this will benefit all of us.

ALL. OF. US.

Say thank you – to the researchers, to the participants, to the families and support workers.

ALL. OF. US.

Spare some cash for their funds.

ALL. OF. US.

And next time you hear some ignoramus insulting a person with Down’s, call them out. Sometimes being better than that ourselves and feeling uncomfortable about it isn’t quite enough to challenge those insults (you know the ones well enough), but maybe this will give us all a shove in the right direction.

Because did I say ALL. OF. US?

‘The Recovery Letters’ edited by James Withey

This collection of letters written by people with experience of depression to people still in the thick of it is available now for pre-order. The reviews here strongly suggest without actually saying so, that this isn’t a sit-down-and-read-all-in-one-go sort of book. It isn’t a novel; it’s real and it’s painful at times because the people who wrote the letters and pulled back the curtains on very personal experiences of their own are real. But its message is hope – everyone who wrote has been there and eventually found a safer place from which to speak. The depressions are different and the recoveries are different because the people are different. There’s probably something there for anyone in that black hole and feeling lost although it may not be the first letter, or any of the first several, or the middle one or the last, but it’s likely to be somewhere there just a page-turn away. And it may not be the same one the next time you look because you will have changed.

To my mind, it’s the complementary twin of Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive, a profoundly moving autobiographical account of his own depression and recovery which can be read like a novel. Have both. Give both. Keep both. On the shelf, by the bed, in the gap between the cushion and the arm of the sofa, Wherever is close to hand.

Elder Care

This list of links comes via Kayla Harris of ElderImpact:

With more and more people joining the ranks of seniors these days, there really can’t be enough information to share. And while the internet has gobs of resources, it can be like finding a needle in a haystack. At Elderimpact.org, we’re dedicated to helping seniors stay healthy, connected, and up on today’s news and developments. That’s why I’m sharing with you a collection of great resources we put together.

The Boomer’s Ultimate Guide to Adding Value to Your Home

9 of the Best Travel Destinations for Seniors and Retirees

Downsizing in Your Senior Years? Decluttering Tips for Seniors

Disaster Safety for People with Disabilities

Healthy Aging Into Your 80s and Beyond

Substance Abuse And Addiction In The Elderly

Caring for Elderly Parents: Managing Role-Reversal

Senior-Friendly Remodeling

Aging Parents And Children Should Talk About Finances

Signs It’s Time for Assisted Living: Identify Potential Warning Signs that It’s Time for a Move

Caretakers’ Guide to Moving Seniors Into a Facility

Checklist: Pre-Planning Your Funeral or Memorial Service

Reasons for Cremation or Burial: Practical and Personal Considerations

Kayla Harris

Elderimpact.org

 

340 S Lemon Ave #5780

Walnut, CA 91789

A comprehensive list that’s likely to be invaluable to people for whom the care of an elderly person is a central concern, or to elderly people themselves. Be informed, know what you want and what’s out there. Even if the locations of these resources are outside your country, they may prompt you to see if there is anything similar locally – and if not, why not.

 

This list is from Elmer George of Elderville.org:

A Guide to Downsizing for Seniors and Their Loved Ones

Should You Own or Rent a Home in Retirement?

How to Save for a Down Payment on a House
Saving for a Home Post-Bankruptcy: A Three-Step Guide for Families
7 Home Improvement & Remodeling Ideas That Increase Home Value (And What To Avoid)
How to Deter Burglars: Keeping Potential Robbers Away From Your Home
Elmer George elderville.org

elmertgeorge@elderville.org

Sleep Apnoea and why you should know about it

This is not fiction but it is a horror story many people don’t know they’re living in.

This video was recorded by a friend, worried by his wife’s interrupted breathing at night. It’s here with their permission because he used it to convince his GP she had Obstructive Sleep Apnoea (OSA) which is a killer.

There are different kinds of OSA, some central – to do with the brain – and some more peripheral involving blocked sinuses or collapsing nasal canals. They all stop the sleeper from breathing, sometimes hundreds of times a night, without them noticing. They wake up tired, often fall asleep during the day, including while driving, Some drivers have killed other road users due to this disorder.

But it’s often the sleeper themselves most at risk of dying because it deprives the brain of oxygen, and while the brain will keep pushing the body to breathe as carbon dioxide levels rise, it can’t overcome the physical obstruction itself. The result can be cardiac arrest or stroke.

If it’s you, your partner may have noticed your snoring and put up with it for a long time. Snoring isn’t glamorous, is it? But don’t ignore it, have the discussion my friend and his wife had and get an assessment via your GP. It will involve an overnight test and it could save your life.

So what can be done about it? Depending on your lifestyle, you might be advised to lose weight (too much of it can make your neck muscles floppy), reduce your alcohol intake (does much the same thing). Treatment includes the CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure) which pushes air into your airways via a mask so you don’t have to drag it in by your own effort. There are also devices that keep your bottom jaw in place if the apnoea is caused by your jaw and tongue falling back into your throat while you’re asleep. And the most minimal of interventions, the strips that keep your nasal passages open if these are inclined to collapse.

Watch the video, hear those agonisingly long pauses in my friend’s wife’s breathing, and take action if it could be you, Be informed; don’t die of ignorance.

The British Snoring and Sleep Apnoea Association (BSSAA) has information, also the British Lung Foundation.