As we get older, we’re more likely to experience the loss of a loved one. Grief is a normal response to this loss. Usually, grief becomes more bearable over time. But sometimes, it remains severe and impairing, developing into prolonged or persistent complex grief. A project of the Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration aimed to understand how grief affects older people’s health and wellbeing and their use of healthcare services.
Through nationwide interviews and surveys, the project found that most older people felt isolated in their grief. Many had experienced multiple bereavements, and for them, every new loss had the potential to intensify grief by re-awakening memories of previous losses. Rituals and daily reminders of the deceased person helped maintain their loved one’s legacy. As part of the project, participants voiced their feelings of loss through poetry. Local artist Elizabeth Darling created illustrations to accompany the poems.
The study reinforced the importance of encouraging older people to seek help after a bereavement, for example, by contacting their doctor, a trusted person, the Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement or GriefLine. The study also highlighted the need for doctors and nurses to be trained to recognise and respond to grieving older patients, who often present with physical rather than psychological grief symptoms such as increased pain, loss of appetite or poor sleep. The researchers are now sharing their findings together with the very moving poems created to raise awareness of the bereavement support needs of older adults.
Follow the project on Facebook or get in touch with the Project Manager Katrin Gerber firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more. COTA Victoria is pleased to be a member of the Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration.