As people age, they commonly face many changes and losses. Grieving for these, and adjusting to new circumstances, can be hard.
Aging is a normal stage of life, with many gains and things to enjoy. However, it brings challenges too. We know that older people face gradual physical changes, but the challenges of aging aren’t only physical. Aging involves a succession of changes and losses, big and small, which can be gradual or sudden. Consequently, older people continually need to adjust. It can feel like they have less and less control over how they want things to be. What’s been lost, can be hard to come to terms with. Such losses naturally affect how people see themselves and their lives, as well as their levels of self-confidence, mood and outlook, overall well-being, and sense of future.
Common losses include:
- The end of employed work after retirement or job loss. This can also mean a changed daily routine, not seeing workmates as before, and needing a new sense of purpose
- Financial changes . For most, income levels will decrease when work finishes. Financial worries may increase, with limited dollars to fund current and future needs
- Changes in one’s physical body and health. Health challenges typically increase with age. As the physical body ages, people commonly begin to encounter changes in abilities such as in sight, hearing, balance, continence, or mobility
- Loss of memory . It becomes harder to remember things, even if the information is important. This can be very frustrating. Dementia can complicate this further
- Loss of independence . A new reliance on others to assist with daily life, and not always being able to do what they want, when they want, how they want. People may need to stop driving. They may need others for the most personal care and hygiene routines
- Loss of familiar surroundings . People might need to move away from a home they have lived in for a long time, or from one they do not want to leave. They may also need to give away personal possessions they’re unable to keep
- Loss of friends and family. There can be changes in the circle of friends and family. Others may now live at a distance and visit less, or older friends may become ill themselves and unable to keep in touch, and perhaps loved ones may die. Also, older people can become socially isolated if they are less able to join in with life as before
- Loss of respect. After years of contributing to family, whānau and community, as well as being employers or employees, older people can feel side-lined, without status, and less respected.
What can help?
People respond in individual ways to life challenges. To be in a good position to deal with whatever comes with aging, it can help to:
- draw on your internal resilience (what attitudes and coping strategies have worked well for you before?)
- be willing to try new ways of doing things and problem solve as positively as possible
- honestly acknowledge challenges and losses, so they can be faced
- make time to grieve losses in your own way – grief is a normal healing process that can help you gradually adjust to changes
- communicate how you’re thinking and feeling, and what you’re needing – find someone you trust to talk to when things feel hard or overwhelming, such as your GP, a good friend, a caregiver, a Counsellor, or perhaps call a help line
- express and release what’s building up inside (e.g. talk, cry, share memory stories, write down troubling thoughts and feelings, or play music that reflects your mood, walk it out)
- look after yourself well every day, paying attention to getting some exercise, good rest, and having a nutritious diet
- keep connected with others – make time to be social and keep in touch with friends and family often
- use your sense of humour and spend time with those who laugh and have fun
- do enjoyable things and go to enjoyable places that lift your spirit
- ask a friend to support you at events or appointments that are stressful for you
- use your abilities and strengths, whatever age you are, to contribute to things and give you a sense of achievement
- do things that are meaningful for you or have a sense of purpose
- find some ways to support others who are finding things challenging too
- remember the good things life has taught you and brought you
- ask for help when you need it
- see a GP about any health or mental health concerns.