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How The Death Of A Spouse Can Affect The Elderly

How the Death of a Spouse Can Affect the Elderly

Death of a spouse at any age is a life-shattering experience. In addition to psychological impacts such as depression, grief can have physical consequences such as sleeplessness and loss of appetite. For the elderly, bereavement can have a devastating effect on their immune system and cause them to lose interest in their own care. This may in part explain why many seniors experience a severe decline in health or even pass away shortly after the loss of a spouse. The risk of an elderly person dying within the first three months following the death of their spouse is greatly increased. For some, the death of a loved one can result in stress cardiomyopathy, often referred to as “broken heart syndrome”.  After a death, proper emotional and physical care for the surviving spouse is an essential component of senior care.

While most seniors gradually adapt to life without their spouse, there are many challenges they may face.

Loss of Independence

Couples that are frail or ill may have been able to maintain their independence together by compensating for one another. A wife with limited mobility may rely on her husband to help her get up and down the stairs or carry items, such as groceries. She in return could be covering for his memory loss by prompting him to take his medication, pay bills or providing directions in the car. In these cases, when an elderly person loses their spouse, their inability to manage daily tasks on their own becomes apparent and they are no longer able to manage on their own. An assessment of the surviving spouse’s ability to live independently is an important aspect of senior care in Montreal.

New Responsibilities

Even for those seniors who are in good health, there will likely be many new and overwhelming tasks to learn. Many elderly couples have set roles within their marriage, where one spouse is solely responsible for a certain job. For example, many husbands have never been required to prepare a meal or wash their clothes and consequently may struggle with domestic chores. Or, if the responsibility of paying bills and managing funds fell to her husband, a widow may feel at a loss when faced with financial decisions. Having to acquire these new skills during a period of grief can seem insurmountable.


Seniors who suffer the loss of a spouse can feel plunged into isolation. If they were living independently, as opposed to in an assisted living facility, the surviving spouse is now alone. Often, older couples are always together and therefore don’t feel the need to develop a wider social network. The loss of their life-long companion is felt in every aspect of their day as well as having to sleep alone, often for the first time in decades. Meals, routines and outings such as afternoon walks may get neglected causing the surviving spouse to get stuck in continuing cycle of depression.

How To Help

Here are some things you can do to help an elderly person adapt to the new challenges they will face:

  • Ensure that they are safe and capable of managing on their own in their home.  If they are not, help them establish the assistance they need (i.e. family, home care, CLSC).  If this is insufficient, help them find alternate living arrangements.
  • Help them learn how to master new tasks and responsibilities. Try to keep it simple and be patient, as they may be easily overwhelmed at this time.
  • Call and visit when possible.  Let them talk even if it seems to make them sad.  Expressing their feelings is an important part of the grieving process.
  • Encourage them to build a social network by finding activities for the elderly in their community.
  • Grief is a natural response to the death of a loved one and a healthy grieving process can last for months or even  years.  However, sometimes seniors experience a continuous grief that does not subside and psychological care is required.

If you have any questions about our service or if you require assistance with home care in Montreal for a senior member of your family, we invite you contact us today. It will be our pleasure to answer your questions.

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