How do you help an elderly loved one adjust after a long-time spouse dies? That’s not an easy question to answer because every situation is different. However, the first thing you have to do is to help them cope with the shock and the grief that they experience.
According to a study by the Harvard School of Public Health, the first three months are the most critical. “The researchers found that widows and widowers were more likely to die than people whose spouses were still living, on average. The effect was strongest in the first three months after a spouse died, when they had a 66% increased chance of dying.”
Once you’ve passed that critical point and an elderly person has been able to process their grief and come to terms with their new life situation, here are some other steps that you should take:
1. Safety & Security
The survivor will be feeling more vulnerable without a partner to help him/her cope with health problems. These problems may range from a decline in muscular strength to cognitive issues. They may, for example, have problems with balance or mobility, or be coping with diabetes, Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.
If they insist on living alone or only get part-time nursing, then it’s a good idea to use a medical alert system like Alert1, which will empower them get immediate help should they fall or have a medical emergency. The device can place a call if it senses a fall, even if the person isn’t able to push the button. Additionally, GPS technology can signal their location if they are out of the house when they need urgent help.
Besides arranging for a medical device, there are plenty of other things you can do to improve their safety:
– Remove loose rugs.
– Secure loose furniture that can fall if leaned on.
– Install railings on stairs.
– Add grab bars in the bathroom.
– Arrange a time for check-in calls.
– Get a homecare service to help with chores.
2. Basic Life Skills
If the couple has had a traditional marriage, in which the husband was the breadwinner and the wife took care of the house, then the surviving spouse may not have acquired some basic life skills. If the wife dies, the surviving husband may not have domestic skills to fix meals and housekeeping; and if the husband dies, the wife may not have learned how to write checks or manage the retirement account. Community courses teach these basic life skills to the elderly.
3. Financial Counseling
Many financial complications might arise with the death of a spouse ranging from drawing social security checks to annuity plan distributions. If the surviving partner has no idea how to manage their financial affairs, then it’s important to either manage their finances for them. If their financial plans are too technically complicated for you, then work with a trusted professional financial adviser. The biggest risk the elderly face, however, is not confusion about how to manage assets, but being scammed by con men and unscrupulous salesmen. This is why it’s necessary for the elderly person to have someone they can talk to when it comes to making financial decisions.
4. Social Interaction
Getting out of the house and meeting other people is probably the best way to manage bouts of depression and intense loneliness. Arrange for the elderly person to join some kind of senior center and to participate in activities there. When you spend time with them take them out to movies, restaurants, or some other diversions.
5. Education and Entertainment
Boredom may not appear to be much of a threat to health and well-being, but constant understimulation can cause someone to dwell on regrets and experience depression. Keeping the mind active is an essential element in maintaining emotional wellness. Arrange for the elderly person to learn new skills—perhaps they might want to take a class in drawing or painting, or perhaps they might be interested in learning how to use a computer or cook or garden.
Take Care of Yourself
It can be exhausting taking care of someone, so be sure to take time off for yourself, too. This way you’ll have the patience and energy to help your loved one.