Older adults: When Grief won't heal

Grieving is the natural and inevitable human response to loss. After a significant loss we may feel like life has less meaning or we may struggle to find purpose in our existence. Bereavement is a common experience for older adults, as we age we are more likely to encounter:

Multiple losses such as death of a partner, friends and companion animals.

Secondary losses such as the loss of intimacy or financial loss and

Non death related losses such as retirement or loss of independence.

Older adults are more likely to experience ‘grief that doesn’t change or heal’ over time. Dr Katherine Shear suggests that older adults are vulnerable to developing complications that ‘derail’ the normal grieving process. This is of particular concern if six to twelve months have passed since the death and people still feel ‘stuck’ in their grief.

Most people will adapt to loss and significant life changes over time; however, a small number of individuals will go on to develop grief symptoms that persist, remain severe or impact on daily functioning. For some grief can continue to feel as intense and overwhelming as it did when the loss first occurred, they may say things like:

‘I feel so stuck’

‘I cannot accept that this had happened’ or

‘I have no purpose in life’

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culturally diverse older sad man standing near window