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 They can become inactive and withdrawn.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 …!

 

Guest Post: 4 Healthy Living Tips for Seniors by Marie Villeza

 

health for seniors

Image via Pixabay

Healthy living as a young or middle-aged person looks quite different from staying healthy as an elderly person. While transitioning into new habits that’ll keep you healthy in your senior years can be a big change, it doesn’t have to be a difficult one. A few changes here and there are all it takes for you to live your life to its healthiest and fullest when you’re enjoying your golden years.

  1. Stay Active: Engaging in light to moderate exercise regularly can work wonders for your health. Light stretching, walking, and swimming are all great ways to get your body moving in a safe way.

Balance physical activity with a wholesome diet to keep your weight at a healthy level. Doing so will help you sleep, feel, and function better as you go about your day-to-day life.

  1. Keep Up with Checkups and Screenings: Keeping up with all your medical engagements can be a lot to handle, so it’s a good idea to use a calendar or planner to keep track of appointments, screenings, and checkups.

Hearing, vision, and dental checkups play a big role in keeping you safe and healthy. Immunizations and other preventative medicine are also great ways for seniors to make sure their immune systems are working as effectively as possible.

Talk openly with your doctor about your medical needs and don’t be afraid to ask all the questions you need to understand your health situation.

  1. Indulge in Your Favorite Pastimes: A fun way for seniors to beat the blues is to engage themselves fully in their favorite hobbies and activities.

Focusing on goals and self-improvement through your personal interests has numerous mental and physical health benefits[1]. Spend a bit of time on your hobbies each day and you’ll benefit from a stronger immune system, strengthened cognitive function, and reduced stress.

  1. Consider a Service Dog: We all know that service dogs[2] are great for the hearing or vision impaired, but did you know that they also make wonderful companions for seniors?

Service dogs can assist with daily tasks like getting up in the morning and even bringing you your medication (in bite-proof containers, of course). Plus, spending time with one can help improve your mood and ward off feelings of anxiety and depression. Service dogs can even improve your social life by encouraging more time outside the home[3].

While staying healthy as a senior may require a few lifestyle changes on your part, it’s simple to build these new habits one at a time. Take gradual steps to stay active, involved in your medical situation, and focused on your hobbies and you’ll be enjoying the benefits of a healthy lifestyle in no time.

 

Marie Villeza was inspired to start ElderImpact.org after she watched her son teach her father how to play Angry Birds™ on his smartphone. In that moment, she realized the importance of bringing the generations together so they can usher each other into the future, breaking down walls of fear and time. She is based in California and in her free time, she enjoys gardening, hiking, and taking part in her monthly book club.

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[1] The Japanese have a term for this; ikigai means ‘reason for being’ and it’s been associated with longevity over and above any other factors. See https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-good-life/200809/ikigai-and-mortality and http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_buettner_how_to_live_to_be_100/transcript?language=en

[2] Also known as Assistance Dogs. Here’s a link to some UK contacts http://www.thebluedog.org/en/i-want-a-dog/benefits-of-a-dog-in-the-family/assistance-dogs

[3] For less mobile individuals and those with dementia, trials of a robotic seal that responds to touch are showing benefits and perhaps reflect that human need for responsive contact and giving. http://www.brightonandhovenews.org/2015/02/10/cuddly-robotic-seal-stars-in-brighton-dementia-study

So why Newcastle?

For a few months now, I’ve been conversing by phone and email with Dr Sanjeet Pakrasi who is a consultant psychiatrist in Newcastle. Sanjeet has put together a care service for people with dementia that I would like to see researched for adults with learning disabilities as it seems to have potential not just for improving care delivery but also reducing costs. At its root is a touchscreen and broadband connection between client, family (optional), and a care hub which gives people live and spontaneous access to recognisable others who are able to provide help and support. Increasingly, it is also offering entertainment in the form of digital painting, jigsaws made from a person’s own pictures, and life story books. The beginnings of a client-driven social network is also emerging.

Despite the quite horrific journey, during which I seriously feared for my life more than once as roads disappeared behind a screen of filthy spray, this was well worth the trip. Sanjeet had brought together people from the Technology Strategy Board (Assisted Living Innovation Platform), Microsoft, Northumbria University, the Department of Health, and the Connect for Care user council to generate discussion about development and research.  My part in this would be evaluation of an extension of this service model to a different client group where the potential for better use of outreach time seems likely to improve considerably the service we can offer to vulnerable adults. In addition, people whose needs currently preclude independent living for safety reasons might, with this technology in place, find they are able to cope well with their additional needs. More discussions on my return, this time at Brighton university, and hopefully out of that, an application for research funding. Crossing fingers as of now!

On a more personal note, I was astonished to find that the hotel, The Falcon’s Nest (one of the Innkeeper’s Lodge chain), had no lift, despite being quite a new development. There is also no attendant so that anyone needing assistance, as I did with a hefty case that would have toppled me back down the stairs had I tried them alone, has to go back outside and over to the pub to find the staff. There is no warning about this when booking and the next day, as we made the return journey to retrieve my case from the first floor (which they called the second floor, oddly enough), I asked what would have happened had I arrived in a wheelchair. There are several disability access parking bays just outside and so the response that ‘We would have shuffled things around’ (to get me a ground floor room), seemed a little unprepared. Be warned!

The next hotel on my trip, the Blue Bell, necessitated by a detour to Yorkshire for family reasons, was quite different. Although this too seemed not to have a lift, there was a very obvious and constantly staffed reception with helpful people who did not need to be asked regarding luggage. I am not sure what would have happened had I appeared in a set of wheels though, as there did not seem to be any ground floor rooms. However, this is an old pub that has been thoroughly upgraded and the comfort of it rather distracted me from my minor crusade! Family visits seem likely to be more on the cards than previously and so I will be back, and I will be back to this hotel too because of its aesthetics, its comfort and its personal warmth. Anyone who can combine elegance with sociable homeliness gets my vote and for that reason I’m putting a link here in case you are planning on visiting east Yorkshire and would appreciate a recommendation.

Breakfast room, Blue Bell Hotel, Burton Agnes
large conservatory-style room for meals

 

Conservatory for meals, Blue Bell Hotel, Burton Agnes
friendly, clean, good prompt service

There is also a small brasserie for evening meals and a rather splendid bar which I was too tired to sample! TV and wifi in the rooms, bedside sockets for those with charging needs and separation anxiety should their iPhone get more than a couple of feet away from their grasp!

Burton Agnes is rural but much of the York and east coast area is accessible from there.