Imagine one day losing the spouse you’ve had for decades.
Having lived with the same person for most of your life, the loss would be phenomenal. Not only would you lose the love of your life, you’d also need to start doing everything on your own — cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, visiting the doctor… the list goes on.
You’d also lose a social connection and a major reason to stay involved with others in your community. Without your spouse at your side, you’d be less likely to attend events, go out for meals and travel.
Here at Take My Hand At-Home Care, we have come across numerous situations just like this. Losing a spouse later in life happens quite frequently to senior citizens in the Whatcom County community.
Not only must widows or widowers deal with the loss of a loved one, but they also must cope with major lifestyle changes. They lose the person with whom they used to watch TV or go on walks. They lose the person who used to remind them to take their medications; they lose the person who used to help them plan fun things to do. They lose their social connections.
These are all real consequences of losing a long-time partner, and the effects can be drastic.
Loneliness after the death of a spouse
According to the National Institute on Aging, social isolation and loneliness are linked to increased risks for high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease and even death.
“Losing a sense of connection and community changes a person’s perception of the world,” according to the NIA. And it’s not just perception. Biological defense mechanisms are activated in those who experience chronic loneliness because they feel threatened and mistrustful.
While older women are more likely than men to report being lonely, the effects of loneliness can be more drastic in older men, who are more likely than women to be depressed and suicidal when lonely, according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Men’s Health.
How to help people stay connected to life after loss
What can change someone’s outlook after loss?
Being social provides an enormous benefit, as does having another person around to provide support and motivation or to offer assistance with daily tasks of living. In particular, men benefit from having purpose in life, according to the AJMH study, which notes that improvements in mental health and purpose in life can help reduce loneliness — and thus reduce many of its negative consequences — in older men.
Pursuing hobbies and other passions is one great option for combating the consequences of loneliness. Joining a senior center, too, can help the elderly make new friends and find new hobbies. Those who have experienced recent loss might also benefit from having their family and friends take them to activities and events, or even just pick up the phone and invite them to dinner.