For many seniors, the loss of a spouse plays a pivotal role in the transition from independent living at home, to dependence on assisted care.

An accurate assessment of an individual’s ability and desire to continue living independently is critical, but can be very challenging in the face of acute grief and overwhelming change.

Support from family, friends and caregivers can help ensure that bereaved seniors who are able and willing to continue independent living at home, have the opportunity to make that choice.

Coping with Grief

The grieving process is unique to every person, and every relationship. While some people may experience immediate, profound and prolonged sadness, others may have delayed or unexpected reactions to loss. You can help your loved one through this process by:

  • Being compassionate and patient
  • Letting your grieving loved one know that you’re there to listen
  • Offering to help in practical ways
  • Asking your loved one what they need from you
  • Asking how your loved one feels
  • Taking care of yourself and acknowledging your own grief

Physical Health Needs

Grief can have profound effects on health, and seniors are especially vulnerable to abrupt stressors such as reduced nutrition and activity. Studies have shown that grief can impair the immune system’s ability to fight illness. To help support your loved one’s health:

  • Ensure they have access to nutritious food
  • Take them grocery shopping or out to eat
  • Go for walks
  • Share enjoyable activities
  • Inform their primary health care provider of the loss of their spouse so their health can be more closely monitored

Coping with New Responsibilities

Couples who have been together for a long time often have set roles and responsibilities. The loss of a spouse can mean suddenly having to learn new skills such as cooking, banking, or putting gas in the car. While this can seem overwhelming at first, learning new skills can be empowering and can strengthen resolve and motivation to retain independence.

  • Keep a list of the skills your loved one needs help with
  • Assign certain tasks to family members and friends through this adjustment period, such as laundry, repairs and yard work
  • Prioritize the development of skills that are needed to ensure health and safety, such as dealing with door-to-door solicitors, alarms, shut-offs and emergency procedures
  • Identify skills that can be outsourced such as snow removal, housekeeping and lawn mowing
  • Simplify bills by helping set up automatic payments
  • Enlist a neighbour to be on call to help with small issues such as household electronics

Adjusting to Being Alone

Living alone can pose new safety, logistical and emotional challenges.

While the potential for falls is a concern for all seniors, those who live alone face the additional risk of not being able to get timely assistance. Take the time to evaluate the home environment, and make adjustments to prevent falls, such as by removing loose rugs, installing railings on stairs, adding ramps, and putting grab bars in the bathrooms. There are many new smart home devices, systems and services that can connect your loved one to help by voice command, or through other environmental cues.

An environment that functions well for two people may not function well for one. However, it may take time for your loved one to make peace with the need for change. Avoid pressuring your loved one to move, or part with possessions that seem to have no utility. Remind them regularly that you are available to help optimize their environment when they are ready.

The loss of a spouse can have a profound effect on social life, and can easily lead to isolation. Positive social connections play an important role in maintaining physical, mental and cognitive health. Encourage your loved one to explore social opportunities in the community, such as classes and activity groups, and work with your family and friends to support these efforts.

If you need support in helping your loved one through this major transition, Retire At Home offers a variety of health and support services designed to meet the needs of seniors who wish to remain at home independently. Contact us today for a free in-home assessment of your needs.

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