5 Things to Know About Losing a Spouse

Life’s later years are full of transitions. Children grow up and move away, the workforce is left behind, bodies and minds change. But perhaps the biggest change that seniors have to face is the death of a spouse. There’s no way to prepare for this earth-shattering, life-changing moment, but there are a few things you ought to know before it approaches.

It Will Affect Your Health

The death of a husband or wife shakes your world. After decades of intertwining your lives in every imaginable way, you’re suddenly facing the world on your own. So, it may not come as a big surprise that this intense grief impacts your health. Grief can cause you to lose your appetite, be unable to sleep, and experience aches and pains. And that’s not the only way grief can take a toll on your health — especially if you’re in your senior years.

In the aftermath of a spouse’s death, seniors are more likely to have a heart attack or suffer congestive heart failure, a phenomenon you may know as the “widower effect.” In addition, their immune systems weaken, leaving elderly grievers prone to illness.

And Your Mental Health

Grief’s mark isn’t limited to physical symptoms. A major loss like the death of a spouse comes with a big increase in stress, an insidious physical response that alters everything from moods to memory. Acute stress can affect concentration and memory, and may even trigger lasting cognitive decline. Seniors can develop depression alongside their grief, and for some, that depression sticks around even as the grief grows less intense.

The mental health effects of grief are more than a passing concern when it comes to the elderly. Seniors struggling to cope with their grief could turn to drugs and alcohol for relief, even if substances have never before had a presence in their life. While drugs and alcohol are harmful to people of all ages, they’re especially dangerous for seniors, and they play a role in the high suicide rate among the elderly. It’s important for seniors to get help when facing an addiction, whether it's from a professional, online resources or a rehab program. 

Grief Looks Different for Everyone

If you learn only one thing about grief, let it be this: There is no right way to grieve, there are no “stages” of grief, and grief doesn’t work on a timeline. Your grief is yours and yours alone, and the way it manifests will depend on countless factors unique to your own life.

It’s important to not feel guilt or shame for being not sad enough or too sad, for crying too much or not enough, for finding new love too quickly or not at all. As long as you’re healing and taking care of your health, however you choose to grieve is OK.

You Need Support

It’s tempting to isolate yourself during this difficult time, but it might be the worst thing you could do. Talking about feelings and memories of a lost spouse is an important part of reconciling the complicated emotions of grief. But not everyone is comfortable talking about death, so it’s important to identify a support system you can lean on.

On top of someone to talk to, support is important because it helps identify concerning behavior changes that you might not notice in yourself. Perhaps you’re in such a fog that you hardly notice you haven’t eaten for days, or maybe you’ve convinced yourself that the extra glass of wine or two with dinner is perfectly normal. But a trusted confidant will take notice when you’re not yourself and help you find the resources to get back on track.

You Will Heal

Learning how to adapt to life without your spouse is a long and complex journey. It takes patience, persistence, and resilience to learn how to live on your own, and you’ll have a lot of wins and losses along the way. But at the end of it all, you’ll discover that there’s happiness, love, and comfort to be found even after the death of a cherished spouse.

Image via Unsplash

Friendly, Furry Companionship: Pet Adoption and Care Advice for Seniors

Research has shown that senior citizens derive abundant physical and mental health benefits from owning a pet. Having a furry friend to care for and companion with improves mood and appetite, increases energy levels, leads to more social interaction, and helps establishes a daily routine that lends an important sense of purpose and responsibility. Pets alleviate the symptoms of depression, boredom and isolation, and diminish the impact of loneliness, which increases the likelihood of mortality by 26 percent. Pet ownership can also reduce anxiety and stress, lower blood pressure, and help keep triglyceride levels under control.   It almost sounds too good to be true, but the look on an elderly person’s face when a cute little dog wanders into the room is proof enough that pets can do wonders for older adults. 

Adoption

There are many programs around the country that will match an elderly person with a dog or cat, such as Washington, D.C.’s “Boomer’s Buddies,” which finds pet adoptees for adults over the age of 50. A program in Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, called Elder Paws, covers the cost of pet food, veterinary care, and incidentals for seniors who can provide a safe home for pets. It’s a valuable asset for seniors who live on a fixed income and cannot afford the expense of ongoing pet care. Pet shelters across the country have the opportunity to set up their own Elder Paws program through the auspices of the Angel’s Rest Animal Society. The Pets for the Elderly Foundation pays adoption and pet fees for people over the age of 60 who adopt from a participating shelter. Local pet shelters are always looking for people who want to adopt an animal, and veterinarians are also good sources of adoption information. 

Moving in

Bear in mind that moving into a new living environment can be stressful for pets. They’re creatures of habit, and having to acclimate to a new space takes a little time. You can help ease the transition by making sure your new friend has his own space, with a bed, food and water dishes, toys and any comforting objects that came along with him. Sometimes, an animal needs to get away and find his own way to feel safe and secure. Choose a safe and quiet room and set up his own spot in a restful corner. There’s no substitute for lots of love and attention and some bonding time once you’re paired up with a new pet friend, so don’t hold back on the affection. Dogs in particular benefit from interaction that takes place on his level, so don’t be afraid to get down on the floor for some petting and playing. Remember that it’ll take a while before your pet gets used to being alone, so leave a treat or a play object behind when you leave to help ease the pain.

Safe home

Providing a safe home is part of being a good companion and a responsible owner. Be careful not to leave the doors open and keep floor-level windows shut as well, especially if you have a curious cat or kitten running around. Be careful about keeping small, loose objects off the floor, especially things that could present a choking or poisoning threat. If your dog will be spending time outside, you’ll need a security fence to prevent your pooch from getting loose. The average national cost of installing an electric fence is about $1,100. 

Ensure that yours is a safe home by taking a few simple precautions inside and keeping your friend on a leash or run line so he can run free when he’s outside. Never let him off the leash when you go for a walk unless you’re going to a dog park, and make sure he’s microchipped and has updated tags with your contact information. 

You and your pet will both benefit from a long, happy friendship. Give him plenty of love and some space when he needs it. And remember, if you take care of him, he’ll return the favor many times over.

Article courtesy of: Pixabay.com. Image courtesy of: Senior.One