Helping Elderly Parents Find Independence Following the Death of a Partner

The death of a spouse or partner is always difficult. But if you’ve been with that person for a long time, even most of your adult life, it can be a much larger adjustment. If you have elderly parents, at some point there’s a fair chance that one of them will pass away before the other. If they’ve spent most of their lives together, this can be incredibly difficult. If they are past retirement age and spent most of their time with their partner, it’s even harder still. 

In later life, the death of a spouse can lead to extreme loneliness and isolation, depression, and a loss of routine, sense of self, and independence. But there’s no reason why your elderly parent can’t find a new sense of independence, and even new ways to enjoy their later years alone. Here’s a look at some of the ways that you can help them. 

Give Them Time to Grieve

Grief is a complicated thing, and there’s no set timeline or rule book. Loss affects us all differently, and it’s not unusual to have ups and downs that last for years. It’s possible that to an extent your elderly parent will spend the rest of their life grieving for their lost spouse. 

This doesn’t have to affect their quality of life or get in the way of their doing things but getting to that point will take time. Give them chance to grieve, don’t try to rush them into anything, and get in touch with a doctor if you are worried. 

Encourage Them to Continue Hobbies

Enjoying hobbies can be hard when you are used to practicing them with a partner. But being alone doesn’t mean that they have to stop. Encourage them to keep going, help them to look for groups and clubs that they could join, and show them how to practice some hobbies, like gardening or walking, alone. 

Talk to them About Their Previous Interests

It’s normal for interests, hobbies and even friends to get lost in a marriage. We want to enjoy hobbies with our partners, we have mutual friends, and we make compromises to make each other happy, and because there simply isn’t time to do it all. 

The death of a spouse is often a chance to rediscover old interests, get in touch with old friends, and give things a go again. Talk to them about things that they’ve enjoyed in their lives and explore the idea of trying again. 

Consider Senior Living Communities

Most of us would like to stay at home in our senior years, but if your parent requires more care, you live too far away to check in regularly, or they are struggling with loneliness, a move into a senior living community is a fantastic idea. 

Their medical needs will determine whether or not assisted or independent living is the right senior living choice. But either way, it will give them a great way to make friends, join groups, try new hobbies, get to know new people, expand their social life, eat better meals, exercise more, and find new enjoyment in life. Senior living facilities can also improve their physical and mental health, independence, and quality of life, and slow any cognitive decline.

Work on Their Mobility

The mental health effects of losing a loved one can make it hard to lead an independent life. But another problem that older people might find is worsening mobility, especially if they were used to having their partner to support them. 

If mobility is an issue that is likely to hold them back, speak to a doctor about ways to help. Often, it’s just a case of finding the right exercises and boosting their confidence, but if they need further support a doctor will be able to offer advice. 

Don’t Make Big Decisions without Them

One of the worst things that you can do for an elderly parent is making decisions for them. Yes, they might need more support, but even if you are worried about cognitive decline, or that they need more help at home, you shouldn’t make any decisions without speaking with them, exploring options together, and most importantly, listening to them. Without their partner, you might become the person that advises and guides them. But you shouldn’t take over. 

Don’t Help Too Much

It can be hard to see our parents hurt, upset, and struggling. You might want to help them, to take the pain away, and to make their lives as easy as possible. But this won’t help them to gain independence or improve their quality of life in the long term. Give them support but encourage them to do things for themselves as much as possible. 

It’s hard to get over a loss, and you shouldn’t expect them to snap right back to normal. Give them time to grieve, and don’t be surprised if there are some personality changes, as they discover who they are without their life partner.

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