3 Things Only Caregivers for Seniors Who Have Lost a Loved One Will Understand

January 13, 2022

A post by Michael Longsdon
Senior caregivers have many responsibilities. They provide assistance with daily living tasks, companionship during lonely times, and a distraction from repetitive days. But, caregivers provide even more necessary care when they offer comfort and emotional support for senior charges who have lost their spouses. It is not easy to help a senior through the downsizing that follows this loss. Below, we share three tips for caregivers of seniors who have lost a loved one to help you through the challenges specific to this situation.

1. Don’t Push Your Care Recipient During the Three Months Following the Loss

Caregivers especially understand the need to have patience when working with their care recipients. Patient, loving care becomes even more critical during the three months following your care recipient’s spouse’s death. According to one study, widows and widowers are more likely to die during the first three months after a spouse’s death than people whose spouses are still living; in fact, they have a 66% greater chance of dying during the time immediately following the spouse’s passing than other seniors. 
Your care recipient will need time to grieve, and making life-altering decisions such as downsizing is not recommended when a person is in a fragile emotional state. Now that we know seniors who lose spouses also could be in a fragile physical state for the first three months after losing their loved ones, it is important for caregivers to allow them to grieve in familiar surroundings. 

2. Be Aware of Your Care Recipient’s Emotions

Should your care recipient have Alzheimer’s, you need to be even more cognizant of his or her emotional state following the loss of a spouse. People in earlier stages of the disease will understand the loss better than those who are in advanced stages, but even those in the later stages can grieve even if they don’t seem to comprehend the loss. Your care recipient may cry, act out, or exhibit other behaviors associated with bereavement and may understand on some level that the spouse is gone. 
At other times, patients with dementia or Alzheimer’s may speak of the spouse as though he still lives. You will have to decide how to approach these situations and take your care recipient’s cognitive status, personality, and behaviors into account when deciding whether to remind her of the death or not. Most caregivers agree, however, that the care recipient deserves to be told about their spouses’ death at least once, and then the family can decide how often to repeat the fact, if they decide to repeat it at all. In some cases, it is unfair to make a patient with dementia relive the shock and pain of hearing the news each day.

3. Keep Mementos and Items of Sentimental Value

When the time does come to help your care recipient downsize following the loss of a spouse, be sure to help her sort items and keep the mementos and items that mean the most to her. Carefully go through each room and clearly mark boxes so that meaningful items are not thrown out or donated accidentally. If your care recipient has a special item that she uses each day or that she relies on for comfort, do not pack it. Allow her to keep it close to make the transition as smooth as possible. 
It’s also helpful to give your care recipient time to go through the downsizing process. Working over a few months is much better than working over a few days and rushing the process. Emotions will run higher when your care recipient is tired or feels as though she is losing control of the process. You also need to be patient and understand that your care recipient may break down or have emotional moments while sorting items. Be attentive to her needs and listen to her stories as she uncovers items that have been tucked away for awhile. 
Caregivers of seniors who have lost their spouses must help their care recipients navigate the pain and grief that follows. After some time has passed, they also must decide how to handle the confusion over the spouse’s death and the downsizing process itself. Making the grieving process and transition to a new home is easier when caregivers are attentive to their care recipients’ emotions and needs for sentimental items.

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