Back to Blog

5 Important Lifestyle Changes for a Surviving Elderly Parent

Losing a parent is heartbreaking, but it also leaves you with a worry; how will your surviving parent cope? The death of a spouse, especially a long-term spouse, is devastating for anyone. The fear that your surviving parent will become lost in grief is very real, and for the first three months the "widowhood effect" increases the risk of dying substantially for the first three months.

So, what can you do to help your elderly parent cope?

Let Them Grieve In Their Own Way

We all deal with grief differently. Don't judge how your parent handles their loss. If it came after a long illness, there is nothing wrong (for them or you) in feeling relief that it is over. If they genuinely want to be left alone for a bit, do, but make sure that you quietly check on them.

At the same time, make sure they know you are there to support them in any way they need. Shared grief is often lessened.

Offer Help With Chores

One of the things which makes the effect of losing a spouse worse is, perhaps paradoxically, owning a home. If the loss was sudden, your aging parent may feel the sudden burden of taking on their partner's chores as well as their own. In that case, they may need help, especially with things their spouse always did. If their spouse always did the cooking, for example, they may have forgotten how or never knew, and need help learning how to handle things.

Be very tactful if you feel it's time to bring up downsizing to a condo or moving into a retirement facility. For some people, moving out of the shared home may help with grief. For others, it may be one loss on top of the other.

You might also work with them on how to improve the way they do things to make it easier for one person to take care of. Make sure they are keeping the place clean and habitable, talk to them about getting a local teenager to mow the lawn, etc.

Encourage Them to Take Care of Their Health

Grief and stress can cause people to stop taking care of their physical health. They might not be eating or sleeping. They might resort to drowning their sorrows (a particular problem if they are on medications that cause problems with alcohol). You don't want to badger or nag, but you do want to make sure they go to their appointments and take their medication. They need to develop new routines to make sure these things are taken care of.

Gently bring up the idea of speaking to a grief counselor. Some people are more resistant to therapy than others, but talking to a professional can be a lot of help.

Help Them Redevelop Their Social Life

Many widows and widowers don't know how to navigate their social life as a single person. This is especially true if the surviving spouse is the more introverted one who might have relied on their spouse to get them to parties and the like.

Talk to them about how they want to move forward. One of the best things a new widow can do is take a class or pick up a new hobby, especially one that encourages them to be around people. Or, if they have been a caregiver for a while, encourage them to get back into things they did before, physical limitations allowing.

You could also bring up joining a support group. A support group can do a lot to help them move on and then allow them to pay that forward to others.

Find Out If They Need Help

As they start to get back on their feet, it's a good idea to discuss permanent help with the house or looking after themselves. Hiring a home health aide is a common next step that allows your widowed parent to stay in their own home until they are ready to move to assisted living or a smaller property.

This is a good discussion to have once the flurry of activity surrounding the funeral is over. The kind of help they might need is likely to vary from person to person, but might include assistance with meal preparation, light housework, or somebody to drive them to appointments. Unless you are willing and able to do all of this stuff for them in the long term, discussing getting help should be done fairly early.