What affect does losing a spouse have on elderly individuals? Often grief goes unnoticed in our elderly populations, especially when they must leave their home and are placed in an assisted living facility Conlon and Aldredge (2013). Bereavement/grief is one of the most painful and stressful life events that threatens healthy aging in elderly people (Mercan, Barlin, & Cebeci, (2016) & Conlon and Aldredge, (2013). The impact of losing a spouse can lead to physical and mental challenges as well as increased mortality risk.
One study by (Mercan, Barlin, & Cebeci, (2016) discovered that the relationship between late-life bereavement was associated with familial death and weight loss, specifically body mass index (BMI), while another study conducted pointed out the temporal relationship between prolonged grief (PG) and post-traumatic stress (PTS) O’Connor, Nickerson, Aderka, & Bryant (2015). Thought elderly people understand that death is inevitable they still have anxiety about dying, but more so about losing their spouse.
Men and women both have anxiety about their own death and death of their spouse, but for different reasons. Women are more concerned about their financial well-being, whereas men are concerned about the instrumental support (Momtaz, Haron, Ibraim, & Hamid 2015). These studies have shown that anxiety and prolong periods of grief can cause depressions and leads to serious health issues in our elderly population. METHOD To identify what was already known about bereavement as it relates to the elderly, a search for literature was conducted using the library tool Central Search.
Four articles relevant to the study were identified. Individual databases such as Educational Research, Complete, ProQuest, Academic Research Premier, and Sage were also used. Studies published within the last five years were used for the literature review: peer-reviewed, empirical and journal articles published between 2013 and 2016. RESULTS In the study, O’Connor, Nickerson, Aderka, & Bryant (2015), examined the relationship between (PG) and (PTS) following old age spousal bereavement found that (PG) can lead to mental and physical morbidity.
Post-traumatic stress has been identified as a psychological complication following bereavement. The study also concluded that (PTS) contributed to (PG) when elderly couples suffered loss of a spouse. The connection between weight loss specifically, BMI and bereavement are another issue that was studied by researchers. When an individual suffers from the loss of a spouse the widow/ers life style is changed, including eating habits. The surviving spouse tends to eat alone, meals are not well-balanced or nutritious and may lead to possible health challenges.
When an individual is suffering from depression, it can cause loss of appetite occur. Loss of appetite can lead to malnutrition and the onset of chronic illness (Mercan, Barlin, & Cebeci, (2016) & Conlon and Aldredge, (2013). Another factor that contributed to anxiety was the couple’s relationship and time together. The longer a couple is together the more dependent and attached to one another they become. The fear of being without that mate causes anxiety prior to the death of either individual, but again, the anxiety is different for men and women as mentioned earlier.
Many elderly people struggle with regrets of what they haven’t done or what am I going to do this now, and finally, they develop ability to make sense of it (Momtaz, Haron, Ibraim, & Hamid 2015). Additionally, the study showed that elderly people being institutionalized rates rose immediately after the loss of a spouse. As individual’s life changed or became ill after losing a spouse, they may choose to be placed in an assisted living facility for care. Per Conlon and Aldredge (2013) many of these individuals are still in the grieving process and their grief has gone undetected and rash decisions are made about their lives.
Prolong grief and depression can have a negative and lasting effect on one’s overall health and that’s what leads to poor decision making on behalf of the surviving spouse. Mental and physical illness are the results of prolonged grief. Finally, studies showed that 11 out of 12 women survive their spouse, and men are more likely to remarry sooner than women. Because women are more likely to outlive their husband, there is a shortage of elderly men available for elderly women to choose from. Therefore, women are being left with limited opportunities to find new companionship or marriage. SUMMARY OF SURVEY
This survey was designed to identify how African Americans in the Northeast Community was affected after losing a spouse. Therefore, I contacted fifteen individuals within the African American community that had lost their spouse within the last eight years and between the age of 55-91. I explained to them that I was studying for my Master’s degree and this class focused on families. I asked if they would be willing to complete a survey I had designed as it relates to losing a spouse in the later years. The survey would help researchers understand how the effects of losing a spouse had on African Americans in the later years.
Of the fifteen individuals that were contacted ten agreed to complete the survey, three of the individuals were open to talking about their loss, but did not want to complete the survey. Two of individuals felt it was too soon after their loss to talk about loved one. The sample consisted of (n=6) female and (n=4) male with incomes ranging from low-socioeconomic to mid-socioeconomic status living in the Northeast Community. Through my survey, I found that many African American do not seek professional help for grief or crisis they may be facing.
They depend on their physical family and their spiritual belief and teaching to aide them during their time of bereavement. It also showed that men remarry or develop new relationships sooner than women and perhaps move to the acceptance stage faster. Two of the men remarried within 2 years and the other 2 started dating within 1 year after the death of their spouse. Only 1 of the women have remarried, 1 is currently dating after 2 years, and 1 is open for dating and marriage. The other 3 women do not believe they will find a man that will treat them as well as their deceased husband or not interested in starting a new life with someone else.
Both studies agreed that grief can cause physical and mental health challenges especially when grief goes undetected. Because of the effect of prolong grief has on an individual and through my studies, I come to the conclusions that Caucasians are likely to place their loved on in an assisted living facility and African Americans are likely to care for them at home. Perhaps this could be related to the difference in the socioeconomic status or how each race rate family importance as we have studied in our books. CONCLUSION In conclusion, the studies have identified many health challenges associated with losing a spouse.
It is important to be attentive to the elderly population because their grief can easily go unnoticed or undetected. Seeking professional help for guidance in recognizing signs and symptoms of depression can aid in reducing prolong periods of grief. Depression and grief can lead to physical and mental health challenge was also found to be a contributing factor that lead to chronic illnesses in the elderly. Many elderly people find themselves married to a memory and have trouble establishing new relationships or moving forward.
Talking to pictures, spend excessive amounts of time at the cemetery, and shutting others out is signs of grief (Conlon and Aldredge, 2013). This is an example of how grief goes unnoticed, therefore, it is important for families and friends to reach out to our elderly population and get them connected with people within the community. Connecting with the proper resources is key to helping widow/ers overcome periods of depression and grief. Spiritual belief was a common denominator for the majority and has helped the surviving spouse find hope after losing their spouse. In many cases family and friends were instrumental in the healing process.
I found that majority of African American do not seek professional help because it is viewed as being weak. Though there were resources available to the families they declined to take advantage of them because they felt they had good family support. Though my study I also learned that Caucasian families are more likely to place elderly members in an assisted living facility and African American are more apt to move share households to care for elderly family members as well as financial support. In both studies, there was not much difference in the grieving process, but African Americans were less likely to seek professional help.
Also, the studies showed that not everyone grieve in the same manner and you cannot put a time limit on grief, but there is a point and time when grieving can become unhealthy. Limitations to the studies are mainly due to sample size, demographics, type of instrument used, timeframe, and what researchers are measuring. To be able to generalize these results, more studies need to be done to include all races, conducted for an extended period, and follow the same sample regardless of their socioeconomic status.