Sadly, aging and loss seem to go hand in hand, like peas and carrots. Although it’s difficult to watch someone you care about come into this slow decline, you must accept a certain amount of it as inevitable. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t positive things you can do to help older adults who struggle with this issue. But first, let us take a look at some of the different kinds of losses that this population goes through.
When one thinks of aging and loss, one of the first things that come to mind is having fewer physical abilities. For some, this means the slow departure of bodily functions they’ve enjoyed their entire lives. Being unable to walk, sit, and transfer (say, in and out of bed), feed or toilet themselves, and attend to other basic needs can leave them feeling powerless and helpless.
One of the most heartbreaking things about growing older is having to endure the loss of a spouse. This is the one family member that, arguably, you are closest to throughout your lifetime. After they’re gone, it can leave an empty hole in a person’s day-to-day existence that is difficult to fill.
However, other family members can also be “lost” to older adults, but in a different way. This may not be so much a physical loss as the loss of a presence in the person’s life. While we may all complain about the difficulties inherent in raising a family, having loved ones around you regularly is usually more of a blessing than a curse. When children grow up and move away, or start spending more time at their jobs or pursuing their own interests, there is a feeling of grief at being left alone.
Similar to the loss of family members is the slow depreciation of friendships that older adults have cultivated. These close ties are usually with others their own age, and of their generation – people whom they feel truly understand them and the history they’ve lived through. But over time, these individuals begin falling ill or passing away. This can leave the older adult not only with anxiety over whom they’ll lose next, but a forced confrontation with their own fears about mortality.
Home and routine
Finally, one of the biggest aspects of aging and loss is when older adults must give up their homes and familiar routines. In some cases, they find themselves going from houses they’ve lived in for decades to facility living. Suddenly, they’re in someone else’s environment and on someone else’s schedule. Administrators, nurses, and auxiliary staff tell them when and what to eat, when to go to sleep and get up, and even what activities they’ll do for the day. Often, it can feel like they’re not living their own lives at all.
However, it does not have to be this way. Fate may be able to take away the ability to walk, or be with family and friends, but it doesn’t have to remove a person’s autonomy. By receiving help at home, older adults can remain in their preferred environment throughout their lives. They can stay with familiar and comforting furniture, mementoes, and routines. This may make other forms of loss easier to bear, and help older adults maintain a sense of independence and self-determination.
The pain of aging and loss can be mitigated
In addition to having help at home, there are many other ways to help older adults cope with loss. This may involve getting them to focus on their strengths, their accomplishments over their lifetime, and their present support system. In certain cases, it may mean getting professional mental health services if they experience extreme forms of distress, such as depression or anxiety. But often, it all begins with keeping the person at home, which provides a solid foundation from which to face the later years with strength and grace.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.