Older people’s experience of bereavement

Older people’s experience of bereavement

Older people are less likely to seek help after a partner dies, for either grief or depression. A partner’s death amongst older people is one of the most devastating forms of bereavement: this is a generation that has traditionally married young, and it’s not out of the ordinary for marriages to last 40 years or more. It’s a huge life transition.

Bereavement support for older people

In a recent survey by Independent Age, it was found that older bereaved people are less likely to seek help and be referred for support than younger people. The findings outline that fewer than 1 in 5 people aged over 60 received counselling following a death. Even more concerning was the fact that more than half said it was not something of interest to them.

Why are older people less likely to get support?

These findings may be due to this generation’s overall attitude to coping. Accessing therapy and counselling isn’t an activity that’s always encouraged, and in some ways it might be seen as a “new” thing. Traditionally, a GP might be a person’s first point of call when it comes to bereavement, or grief’s other symptoms such as low mood.

Independent Age’s study found that this kind of attitude is reflected when it comes to thinking and discussing death; many older people see the death of a partner as “just how life goes”, shutting down the importance of talking through feelings.

At the same time, support for older people is restricted: many older people can find it hard to access counselling and therapy if they have no experience of such services before. GP’s have no standard training in bereavement, with no policy given by NICE.

Why does this matter?

While it may seem obvious, older people are more likely to experience bereavement than any other age group. It follows that older people should have good access to support – this is simply not the case.

One of the standout points of the study is that a partner’s death is treated as something par of the course (which, of course, it is), but so too are the symptoms of loss surrounding it. There’s a sense of putting up with something, and not being able to talk about it.

The experience of bereavement in older people is also a conversation about loneliness in old age: Nearly a third of bereaved people over 65 see themselves as very lonely. With less social connections, and limits on how often older people can get out and about, a partner’s death only compounds this. 

Over and above this, bereavement support isn’t a well integrated area – there’s great work being done by charities, care home’s and the NHS but there’s no definite place to turn to, which may help older people to easily locate help.

How can older people be encouraged to get support? 

With most deaths in the UK of over 65s being from terminal or progressive illnesses, such as frailty and dementia, there’s usually a window of opportunity to prepare for bereavement as well as death.

Talking about death, at an individual and a policy level, can start to provide the help that older people need. Planning ahead, for death and for living without a partner, can help with becoming confident with talking about death. Here at DEATH.io we’ve got extensive planning pages to do just that.

There needs to be greater awareness around bereavement support and help with depression for older people. Those who isolated or who have little family, or not many people to start the conversation with, should also be thought about. Those without family need alternative sources of support.

Find out more

If you prefer not approach bereavement services, learning something new or structuring your day around a hobby might help. Age UK have a helpful Work and Learning section

For bereavement services, take a look at our Support page

If you want to plan ahead, get some inspiration from our Planning page and our Money issues hub

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