This time of year is one to reflect on the past and look toward the future with anticipation and excitement. However, reflecting can also stimulate and amplify emotions of sorrow and bereavement – particularly for elderly individuals who experience loneliness or recall departed loved ones. What’s more, the isolation felt during the pandemic may have increased feelings of grief and loneliness in older adults, which can impact both their physical and mental health.
Recent research revealed that nearly half of Americans aged 60 and over report feeling lonely, discouraged, or depressed. Whether you are a family caregiver or an aging adult, it's important to understand ways to help cope with grief while still enjoying the season.
“The holiday season can be overwhelming. It takes an emotional toll on older adults and creates obstacles for caregivers, friends and family to navigate, especially if they’ve recently lost a loved one. In those cases, special occasions can be particularly difficult,” said Lakelyn Hogan Eichenberger, Ph.D., gerontologist and caregiver advocate at Home Instead. “It is crucial that family and friends step in to help seniors process their emotions. Whether it be lighting a candle in someone’s memory, going through old photo albums to share happy stories or dancing to their favorite song – there are thoughtful ways to remember those who are no longer here.”
The holidays often bring back memories of a lost spouse, sibling or friend, and that can be especially painful for older adults. Friends, family and caregivers can help aging adults enjoy the time with those around them by using some of these tips to help navigate feelings of grief and loneliness.
5 Tips for Processing Grief in Older Adults
1. Acknowledge and adjust.
It's perfectly acceptable to allow sadness – particularly after losing someone special. Grief can be a complicated emotion. Encourage older adults to grieve in whatever way feels natural to them.
2. Honor the memories.
Set aside time to help older adults memorialize the person who has died. While some find comfort in keeping their usual holiday traditions, others may struggle. Whether it's carrying on a tradition previously done together or creating a new one in their memory, it is important to create a space for seniors to reminisce. By making the time, older adults can keep a piece of their loved one during this meaningful time of year.
3. Allow them space to heal.
Mourning is not a straightforward journey. Understanding the enormity of a loss requires time. Give your loved one the necessary time to comprehend their emotions and room to start the healing process. When they're prepared to share, be present, and offer solace and assistance. If suitable, suggest they participate in a support group to converse with others who have also endured a loss.
4. Create new goals.
For many, the best way to honor a deceased loved one is to live life to the fullest. Set an actionable resolution for the new year to embrace all life has to offer and focus on the good. Whenever you experience joy, think of it as a gift sent from the person you love and embrace it as if you were embracing them once again.
5. Enlist professional help.
Should an elderly individual be dealing with the loss of a loved one and struggling with intense, uncontrollable grief, it's advisable to contact a mental health expert for assistance with coping mechanisms and resources. You might also consider in-home care services through Home Instead. This could not only offer your loved one assistance with household tasks, but also provide regular social interaction and conversation. Although the holiday season is typically a period of happiness and festivities, it can amplify feelings of solitude, grief, and sadness for some. Make sure to check on the elderly individuals in your life and reassure them that they are not isolated during this season.