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Preventing Broken Heart Syndrome and Ways to Help Seniors Who Are Grieving

senior lady looking at old photoIn his documentary about grief, George Shelley uses the analogy of glitter. Toss a handful of glitter into the air, and it is going to settle into most of the cracks and crevices of the room, impossible to fully sweep up and remove. Individuals who have lost a loved one can relate. Yet in some instances, grief may be so overwhelming that it can result in a serious and aptly-named condition: broken heart syndrome.

Broken heart syndrome is a very real physical condition due to the intense stress experienced in some forms of grief (such as one spouse losing the other after decades of marriage). The medical term is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a temporary enlargement of the heart that prevents it from pumping blood effectively.

And, it’s more prevalent than you may know. A number of high-visibility examples include George H.W. Bush, who became ill following the loss of his wife of 73 years, and Johnny Cash, who passed on just four months following the loss of his wife.

Researchers have been studying the impact of grief on an individual’s physical health for years. In 1995, for example, the term “widowhood effect” was coined to describe the 30% rise in mortality rate faced by individuals who lost a longtime partner. Other scientists determined a connection between grief and the immune system. Some surviving spouses simply lose the will to live.

Help prevent this condition and ease the pain of grief for someone you love with these tips.

  • Help the senior stay involved with comforting, enjoyable activities whenever possible.
  • Provide a listening ear and encourage the senior to convey their grief in a healthy way.
  • Talk about the lost loved one, allowing the opportunity for shared stories and memories.
  • Recommend the person speak with a therapist to effectively work through overwhelming emotions.
  • Look for a grief support group for the senior to attend, either in person or virtually.
  • Make sure the person is staying hydrated, eating well balanced meals, and getting lots of sleep.
  • Emphasize to the senior everything they have to live for, and that doing so is the best way to honor the lost loved one’s legacy.

A trained caregiving companion from Generations at Home is also a great way to help a loved one who is grieving. We offer socialization and lots of opportunities for conversations and reminiscing, as well as engaging activities, transportation wherever an older adult would like to go, and much more. Reach out to us at 727-940-3414 for a complimentary in-home consultation to find out more.