In honor of National Assisted Living Week, we explore the topic of grief among older adults with our expert grief counselor and Clearwater Living’s Empowered Living Director, Jill Zimmerman. Jill’s background in grief counseling gives her a unique perspective on seniors, allowing her to optimally support Clearwater’s lifestyle teams and program development. With her guidance, we can better understand grief in seniors and learn how we can help to improve and enrich their lives daily.
Recognizing Grief in Seniors
While the reasons for grief may vary, it's vital to recognize the symptoms so the grieving individual can get help as soon as possible. These symptoms may include:
- Feelings of guilt, anger, or anxiety
- Loss of interest
- Disbelief or denial
- Lack of motivation
- Strong feelings of sadness
Conversation and continuing frequent communication with your loved one will help you identify their feelings and offer the appropriate support. Grief can typically last a few weeks to a few months, but thankfully, there are solutions to help seniors feel better and live a happy and fulfilling life.
How to Help
Talk with your loved one. To help someone who is grieving, encourage them to talk about the source of their grief and how it makes them feel. If they have lost someone close to them, ask them to share stories and memories about the person. This can be a therapeutic exercise to facilitate the grieving process.
Help with self-care and daily chores. Those who are grieving may find it challenging to get out of bed and care for themselves or their homes. They may need a physical form of motivation. Help the grieving person practice good hygiene, care for themselves, and clean their home. If their symptoms are severe, cleaning things for them may help them realize that a clean, organized home can brighten their day and may provide some temporary relief.
Encourage community support groups or grief counseling. Fortunately, counseling and therapy programs nationwide offer virtual counseling. Senior living communities are also great resources and typically host ongoing grief counseling at their locations. Setting a weekly appointment can provide relief and help the grieving work through their thoughts and emotions.
Provide reassurance. This is essential. Be sure to tell the grieving person that they are not alone. Let them know you are there for them and want them to share their feelings and experiences. Validate and reassure them that grief can heal with time. Don't try to rush their healing process. Each person heals differently through different methods. However, if grief lasts for six months or more, the senior may be experiencing prolonged grief disorder (PGD) and should consult their physician for a proper diagnosis and recommendations.
Creating a Community of Support
As Clearwater’s Empowered Living Director, Jill Zimmerman hires, trains, and mentors the lifestyle teams across Clearwater Living communities. As an expert grief counselor, she firmly believes that each Lifestyle Director she mentors must not only be able to empower residents and create joy, but also be capable of supporting and helping those in need.
"It is a privilege to be able to listen to our residents who are going through or have gone through those scenarios," Jill explains, "My team and I are so proud to have those conversations with them. At Clearwater communities, we do not ignore where our residents are mentally and emotionally by distracting them with activities. It’s important to go at the right pace for them, and meet them wherever they need. Trying to talk someone out of their emotions means you're uncomfortable. People who are grieving need to know we’re there for them."
For example, Lifestyle Directors offer monthly support groups for families experiencing challenges; some of these meetings provide information to help them cope with many different struggles. The lifestyle teams and other community team members can also help residents and their families with additional resources to encourage everyone to live well.
Empowering Residents to Work Through Grief
In addition to hiring and training the lifestyle teams, Jill oversees Clearwater’s Empowered Living program. This program provides residents with events, activities, and resources based on Six Dimensions of Living Well:
- Physically Active
- Mentally Stimulating
- Purpose & Meaning in Life
- Social Engagement
- Nourish Mind & Body
Empowered Living programming creates opportunities for residents to fulfill their physical, mental, and emotional needs. With Jill’s guidance, this holistic approach to person-centered philosophy can also help grieving residents and their families understand and work through grief.
Encouraging Connections. Residents can connect to each other and their communities by participating in projects that offer purpose and meaning. For example, communities coordinate events that allow intergenerational connections through specific programs, such as having children come to the senior living communities to sing or read books together. These connections add to the resident’s resilience and help them to work through difficult emotions.
Community Events. Residents can also enjoy many light-hearted special events like fashion shows with extravagant and silly outfits, photo shoots, and resident art shows. These events are all personalized and curated to celebrate the individuality of each resident.
Meaningful Activities. Clearwater's Lifestyle Directors create beautiful activities to ensure residents see themselves as relevant people whose thoughts, feelings, and actions matter. Each resident can attend activities to celebrate their individuality.
Using Jill's expertise and the Empowered Living program, Clearwater Living strives to make a positive impact across all of its locations. Every Clearwater community sees what they do as a privilege, and the team members work to help residents feel their best daily. If you or a loved one are struggling with grief, contact us at Clearwater Living for resources or to learn how we can help you and your family. To find a community near you, visit our communities page.