Helping Older Adults Deal With Life-Changing Events

Life-changing events can happen at any age. This includes things such as the death of a loved one, newly diagnosed health problems, and job loss. As people age, these events become more common. Grief is a normal, healthy response to loss. Grief can occur more frequently as you age. Over time it can take a toll on your emotional and mental health. It can even lead to depression. If you’re a caregiver or if you spend time with an older adult, learn how to help your loved one cope with loss.


Path to improved well being

Understand the grieving process:

Although there are common physical and emotional symptoms of grief, everyone is different. There is no “right” way to grieve. Each loss is different, too. Allow your loved one the time and space to grieve in their own way. This is the most important thing you can do for a loved one. If you don’t know what to say, just listening makes a big impact. Your loved one may need to express their feelings. If you are uncomfortable, offer to help.


Grief and loss can be overwhelming. Small tasks may seem exhausting. That’s why an offer to help makes a difference. Don’t wait for your loved one to ask for help. Offer to do things like make dinner, pick up groceries or a prescription, do laundry or clean.

Things to consider

The symptoms of grief and the symptoms of depression are similar. It’s normal for a person to feel sad after a loss. That is temporary. Your loved one may be depressed if:

  • They don’t feel better as time passes
  • Their emotions get in the way of daily life
  • They no longer take pleasure in the things they used to love doing
  • They mention or have thoughts of suicide

What you can do to help a loved one who has depression:

  • Don’t be afraid to remember the person who passed in fond conversations. This may help your loved one feel less alone.
  • Avoid saying “I know how you feel.” Stay away from using phrases such as “they are in a better place.” This minimizes your loved one’s feelings. Instead, say things like, “I know this must be difficult,” or “You don’t have to be so strong.” This helps draw out your loved one’s feelings.
  • Just sit with your loved one. This can be comforting even if they don’t want to talk.

If you notice any of these signs, talk to your loved one’s family doctor. The doctor can help treat the depression so your loved one can start to feel better.

Questions to ask your doctor

  • Does my loved one need medicine to treat their emotional problems?
  • Can a job loss at an older age be upsetting?
  • Will my loved one’s emotional feelings cause physical illness?Resources
    AARP: How to Help Yourself and Others Process Grief