Grieving takes a toll on the physical body, no matter your age. For seniors, the symptoms of loss are more intense due to the frailty of their frame and magnitude of the changes they are experiencing. Emotionally, the strain is apparent, especially in the case of losing a spouse. And sometimes the effects of their emotional pain result in other physical ailments, which are devastating to an already weakened body.
It is important that we are all aware of the medical conditions common to a senior’s grieving stages. We should know the warning signs and be equipped to render aid if we see our seniors struggling. Believe it or not, the unseemly truth is that substance abuse is on the rise for the senior age group. According to one source, as many as 17 percent of older adults struggle with a form of substance abuse. So as you monitor your beloved senior’s health during their grieving period, keep in mind that some of the symptoms, such as a sudden increase in medications or dosages, are also associated with addiction. Along with the warning signs of substance abuse, make sure you know what symptoms will help you detect other medical conditions as well:
Among the contributing factors of depression, experiencing traumatic life events is at the top of the list. Seniors who remain isolated, have trouble sleeping, or seem consistently irritable well after their spouse has passed, may be silently battling depression. Treatment for depression can be as easy as encouraging an increase in physical activity or inspiring the senior to engage in a new hobby. Depression often leads to a withdrawal from activities that your loved one once enjoyed, especially if it was something they once did with their spouse. Offer to to do it with them or find a completely new activity for the two of you to learn and explore together.
The little tasks like changing a light bulb or managing an overgrown lawn can cause immense anxiety in someone handling a significant life change, especially if their spouse was the one who was in charge of it. The senior may not express their anxious thoughts to you, but you can recognize an anxiety disorder within their responses to minor changes in their daily routine. Have a conversation with your loved one to learn what types of tasks cause them great concern. Consider providing them with services, such as a repairman, a lawn care company, or a housekeeper who could relieve them of a few of the minor household chores. Just as small changes could upset their way of life, simple solutions could improve it.
Sleeplessness is a common side effect of emotional pain. Ironically, our body needs sleep in order to heal from the mental and physical turmoil of the grieving stage. Sleep is so important to our body functions, that one study shows a strong link between sleep and the mortality rate. Researchers also say that if we do not get the proper amount of sleep, we could increase the risk of dementia. Ask your senior if they feel rested or if they would like to complete a sleep study to improve their restfulness. Look for signs that they aren’t getting enough sleep such as undereye bags, yawning, or even napping more than usual.
Fatigue is not interchangeable for sleepiness. While becoming easily fatigued happens naturally with age, a sudden onset could link it to something else. When older adults experience bodily changes such as decreased hormone levels or when they endure significant life changes, it can result in fatigue. Coordination issues or difficulty completing basic tasks are both common side effects of fatigue. In fact, one study connected fatigue with other issues like joint complications and decreased energy levels. Consistent meals, hydration and exercise can all help fight fatigue and provide a sense of renewed life for the senior.
If your senior is struggling with one of these medical conditions during their time of grief, help them receive the care they need. A brief, open conversation can be the catalyst for a happier outlook toward their years to come. These five medical conditions may be the tell-tale sign of a greater season of emotional healing yet to come. While grief is a process and everyone handles it differently, it is important that seniors address the symptoms as they occur in order to grieve in a positive, healthy way.