Understanding loss – and how seniors cope with loss

By Valerie
August 27, 2015

I consider it a daily gift to work with people in later life; to hear about their unique footprint on earth, to celebrate their personal victories, to share in their losses and to find a way forward that brings continued meaning, purpose and independence.

In particular, the experience of loss as we age can cause personal pain or a disruption in our lives. Losses can be minor or major and relative to how the person perceives the loss. Tangible losses such as a death, chronic illness, and change in physical abilities or senses are often easier to recognize, whereas intangible losses such as the perceived loss of control and independence can be more subtle or less obvious.

Younger generations typically have more physical energy and a sense of control to move on after experiencing losses. Seniors can find it more difficult to cope with loss, simply because they can’t be regained or replaced.

Think for a moment about how loss effects people. Most of us – at some point in life – are going to experience the following:

What binds generations and people together as human beings, regardless of age, is that we all will have to deal in some way with losses of many types throughout their lives. While we may not all experience the same type of loss, rebuilding our lives and relationships after a loss is a universal challenge that we all must face.

Most people who are experiencing a loss or change want to talk about their feelings, concerns, fears, hopes and dreams. Even if these are expressed as “life isn’t working out the way I wanted it to,” there is immense value in being able to acknowledge these changes and what they mean for your parent, or grandparent, and those around them, such as family or friends.

When caring for the older people in our lives, it is important to understand the array of emotions they may be going through. Many older adults describe age-related losses as “losing themselves.” Many feel they are no longer the person they once were and often grieve the loss of their abilities. Each of us deals with these losses differently and grief comes in many forms including shock, denial, depression, feelings of loneliness, and anger.

The more we can acknowledge the changes and losses taking place, the more opportunities there are to regain control and maintain independence.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC