How to Help a Grieving Senior Stay Healthy

adult-daughter-and-mother-smilingThose of us who work with seniors have probably seen firsthand the impact grief can have on older adults. When a spouse or other close family member passes away, seniors often seem to experience greater physical symptoms of grief. From more frequent colds to new health conditions, the older you are, the more likely it is that grief will cause the immune system to become weaker.

A study published in Immunity & Ageing looked at the science behind why grief affects seniors differently. What they found was that two stress hormones in the body respond to grief in different ways depending on age. Older adults stress hormones are more at risk during the grieving process. These hormones are the ones that help our body’s immune system fight off infections. When they are compromised, the risk for illness increases.

How to Keep a Senior Loved One Healthy When They Are Grieving

Grieving is a difficult time for everyone. While the temptation might be to stay at home and avoid crowds, it might not be the healthiest thing to do. Here are a few tips that might help you keep a senior loved one healthy while they are grieving a loss:

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle: A well-balanced diet and routine  exercise can boost the body’s immune system. Encourage your loved one to try to eat healthy, including consuming five to seven fruits and vegetables each day. Lean meat or other sources of protein can also help to keep them feeling stronger. Exercising for 30 minutes each day is another key part of a healthy lifestyle. Playing mood-lifting music on an iPod or other device while taking a brisk walk will release the body’s natural mood improving endorphins.

  • Join a bereavement support group: Many churches and all hospices host bereavement meetings for people who have lost a loved one. They are often broken down into groups designed for spouses, children, sudden losses and more. Sharing feelings with others who understand and can empathize is beneficial to healing. Getting the insight and support of the bereavement counselor or clergy who runs the meeting can also help.

  • Stay connected: We know that isolation in and of itself can be a risk factor for health problems. Try to help your grieving loved one stay connected to friends and family even if it just by phone or by Skype. You can encourage loved ones who live far away to send notes and cards to let the senior know they are in everyone’s thoughts.

Resources to Help Grieving Seniors

A few additional resources that might help you support a senior loved one who is grieving are: