When it comes to healthcare, grief and loss is easily misunderstood. When working on my care plans for nursing school, I had to address this topic.  I’d ask the client if they had lost anyone recently, and they would say no then I would write ‘client not experiencing grief or loss’. The end, right?

Absolutely not.

The concept of grief and loss is a complex one.  We typically think of the death of a loved one. However, in the field of geriatrics specifically, our clients are grieving the loss of independence, mobility, hearing and vision, memory or the ability to make decisions for themselves.  Perhaps someone can no longer eat the foods they enjoy due to conditions such as diabetes or Crohn’s disease. In some cases, they are experiencing anticipatory grief related to terminal illnesses.  Also, families of our clients are experiencing on-going grief related to the decline in their loved ones health.

Each individual experiences and copes with grief in different ways.  What may seem trivial to one person can be a significant loss to another. As caregivers, whether professional or friends and family, we need to be aware of losses our clients and loved ones may be grieving, and address them in a therapeutic way.

First, avoid asking ‘why’ questions, as these can quickly close the line of communication. Try saying “tell me more about…” or “how do you feel about…”.
When talking, make sure to LISTEN. Put yourself at eye level and express a genuine interest in what they are telling you. Also, know that in some cases, it’s not beneficial to remind someone of what they do have-it’s best to just listen and validate their feelings. For example, if someone has lost use of their left extremities because of a stroke, saying “Well, you still have your right side” may do more harm. Instead, allow them to express their grief and let them know you will work together to improve their strength, find out what they can do, and regain some independence.

I will further address this topic in future blogs. Here are some lifespan considerations related to grief and loss:

Loss of job, income, financial stability
Loss of body parts (hysterectomy, mastectomy, extremities)
Chronic diagnoses in self or loved ones (psychological, developmental, non-life threatening)
Personal lack of achievement
Divorce, loss of relationships
Children moving away, going off to college