Tag Archive | Depression

How Do You Mend a Broken Heart?

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Abigail folded her hands and bowed her head. “Thank you Jesus for our food. In Jesus Name. Amen.”

“That was sweet, Honey. Wasn’t it dad?” Marilyn patted her aging dad on the knee. “Dad. Didn’t Abby do a great job with the prayer?”

Her father stared at the table. He unfolded the plaid cloth napkin and placed it in his lap. Marilyn’s teenage son gently nudged his grandfather’s arm. “Green beans?” Still no response.

Marilyn spooned a small helping onto her dad’s plate. “They’re cooked just like Mom made them. Big chunk of pork and simmered until tender. Salt. You’ll love them Dad.”

The tension was thick. The moment uncomfortable. And Marilyn couldn’t ease the anxiety. Her had mother passed away a few months earlier and she’d moved her dad into her home so she could care for him.

Marilyn’s dad poked at the green beans then scooted his chair away from the table and excused himself. He pressed his palm against his chest, and groaned. “My chest hurts.”

Charles and Eleanor Morrison had spent 62 years of their lives together. Eleanor never left Charles’ side even after two strokes nearly took his life. She’d help him walk, literally helped him place food in his mouth when his face was numbed from the stroke. Eleanor was not only his lifelong soul mate, she was his caregiver – the joy of his life. So when Charles woke early that Saturday morning and Eleanor didn’t roll over to kiss his forehead, life as Charles knew it . . . ended.

Marilyn and her sister made numerous efforts to help “snap” their dad out of his sadness but nothing seemed to work. A trip to the doctor gained the diagnosis of “Broken Heart Syndrome.” Marilyn laughed. “You’re not serious?” But indeed, the doctor was very serious.

Broken Heart Syndrome is in fact a very real diagnosis with patients experiencing:
*shortness of breath
*chest pain
*irregular heartbeats
*an overall general weakness
*appetite loss
*weight loss
*depression and fatigue

According to Mayo Clinic the exact cause of Broken Heart Syndrome is unclear but when the body experiences a devastating event or trauma a surge of “stress” hormones are released (i.e. adrenaline) striking the heart and causing the symptoms to present.

Studies on the elderly show Broken Heart Syndrome is not uncommon for the surviving spouse after the loss of their mate. Stress, loneliness, depression all play into the effects. Insurance companies who pay life insurance benefits followed the mortality rate of widowers/widows to discover a higher mortality rate in the second spouse within in six months of the passing of the first. They also noted that women who suffer the loss of their husband are at higher risk than men to experience Broken Heart Syndrome, though men do also experience it as well and in a more devastating way.

What Do Families Do?
At best, the loss of an aging parent is difficult for children but the surviving spouse suffers far worse. It’s important for families to realize they cannot set a time frame for grief. Where their lives move ahead with the busyness of their immediate families, the lives of the aging parent becomes far more emptier. Children are grown, retirement has taken away the daily grind of work, and the glaring fact of their own immortality looms as a reality.

There is no real “best” way to ease the symptoms of Broken Heart Syndrome but families can follow these suggestions as a guideline:

*If the grieving process is remains severe after 60 days, contact the physician for a health exam.
*Plug into a grief/loss support group or become involved in an active seniors group through local churches or the Department of Aging.
*Encourage walking (exercise strengthens the body and allows the mind to process thoughts without interruption).
*Do not force the issue, rather work with the physician and even grief counselor to help bring a parent into acceptance.
*If the symptoms listed above are continual . . . seek medical attention (Broken Heart Syndrome mimics a heart attack. It’s always better safe than sorry.)
*Encourage family members to renew relationships with the parent. Calls, cards, communication is vital.
*Grieve WITH your parent. Sharing your own grief allows the parent to grieve as well. But be wise in how, what and when you share. It helps when a parent realizes they are not alone in vortex of void.
*Don’t try to replace the loss but encourage new adventures. Plant the seeds of activity so they can sprout.
*Be sensitive to the emptiness your parent feels and love them even when it’s hard.

Families often think a “quick fix” is moving the surviving parent into the home of a child. It’s important to remember that, unless it’s medically necessary, sudden uprooting may not be in the best interest of your loved one. When a loved one has spent over half of their life with a spouse, it’s enough to suddenly be without them, but uprooting the surviving parent without allowing them adequate time to grieve may be equally as detrimental.

Allow time for the family to come together and sort slowly through the memories that hang in the closet or are stacked in a cabinet. Physical possessions are something surviving parents can touch, feel, and identify with. Seeking to empty out personal belongings to quickly may be an effective coping mechanism for children, but not for the surviving parent. Be compassionate and understanding while walking your loved one through the loss.

The loss of a spouse is a traumatic thing. Seek out patient and effective ways to help your parent grieve and move past so a new beginning appears hopeful and not debilitating.

Time is the ultimate healer and for some that time is longer rather than shorter. Finding patience, offering hope, and praying together as a family, brings comfort. Nothing surpasses love. When families come together to support one another the process is bearable.

For more information on Broken Heart Syndrome visit The American Heart Association and their article on Broken Heart Syndrome or ( www.heart.org ).

Avoiding “The Eldercare” Talk

By Cindy Sproles

In a perfect world all aging parents would understand at some point in their lives, there will be need for assistance. When the time arrives, parents would willingly comply with the suggestions of their well-meaning children. But it’s not a perfect world. And…we avoid having the conversation. Here are a couple of reasons why.

*Anger

No one likes to admit their abilities are slowly becoming inabilities, especially when, through the years, they’ve been independent, self-reliant and able. Still avoiding the conversation is not wise.

There’s always an excuse to prevent families from discussing the care of their aging parents. One of the greatest fears in sharing this information is anger. It’s difficult for parents to hear the words, “You need help.” Remember, our parents were raised during an era in America when they were forced to be self-sufficient. Many survived World War II and even some lived through the Great Depression. Times were hard and survival depended on their determination to care for themselves. Be sensitive to this ingrained independence and self-preservation. Many parents know they need assistance but simply refuse to accept the truth. Sometimes handling the conversation of acceptance in little doses is better. For example, a parent’s laundry may be stacking up because their washing machine is located in a basement. Getting up and down the stairs with a load is hard. They realize this and let the laundry slide. Approach the subject from the laundry stand point as opposed to saying, “You can’t do this anymore.” A dialogue might be like this:

“I see you’re towels are low in the hall closet. Can I help you get that laundry done?” This can lead to conversation that helps the parent see a need for assistance. Perhaps suggest having the appliances moved upstairs for convenience or “Maybe we can find someone to come by weekly and do the laundry for you.” Will there be resistance? Probably. But the subject is approached from a task needing to be completed rather than saying they are just not able anymore. It may take time, but small doses of conversation showing need is better received.

*Depression

Families fear an onset of depression when aging parents are approached with a need for assistance. Depression is a possibility, especially in those who have lost spouses. When a parent has depended on a spouse for 50+ years, that spouse dies…two things can happen. The surviving parent over compensates by taking a strong initiative in their life or they sink into a deep depression feeling as though they can do nothing for themselves. Depression is best handled by a physician but it is not a reason to gently approach aging parents about assistance in their homes, especially if they are in situations that could endanger them.

*The truth hurts
Unfortunately, the reality of aging hurts. Our immortality becomes imminent especially as they see their peers enter nursing care facilities or pass away. Aging can be frightening and it’s something only few face head on.

The fact remains, if an aging parent needs assistance, take time to have the discussion about their care. Nothing supercedes their health and safety. The conversation is never easy but there are ways to approach the subject that eases tension.

The Joys of Parenthood

Senior woman contemplatingThere is no greater gift than parenthood.  Just to hold our newborn infants close brings a whole new meaning to life.  In our youth we long to have a family and once that gift arrives the future years are spent nurturing, growing and developing these children.  Children depend on their parents for moral support, guidance and even financial aid at times.  There is a certain comfort and peace in knowing our parents are always a phone call away.  For parents – the gift of a strong bond with their children is everlasting.

Then the tide turns. The waters that once rushed forward into the lives of children now recede, and the ability of the parent lessens; not from desire but from physical ailments. Aging. Dementia. Frailness. The realization of aging attacks and children suddenly understand parents are unable to do the things they used to do. It’s a hard realization, but if it’s hard for the children, imagine how difficult it is for the aging parent.

Children will see definite changes in the attitude and disposition of their parents and it is important they understand the steps of acceptance for their parents.

Anger – Anger is one of the first stages of acceptance seniors experience. A tough skin is important. Learning to understand when aging parents lash out, it’s not personal, even when harsh words are hurtful. Nothing can describe the frustration of being unable to do the simplest tasks. Walking, buttoning a shirt, brushing teeth. The simple tasks of daily living begin to slip through their fingers. It’s enough to grasp being over 70 but when fingers won’t bend, legs won’t lift, climbing stairs becomes slow and painful, frustration and anger set in.  Aging parents lash out as they fight for the one thing held most precious to us all – independence.

Depression – Depression is not uncommon for seniors. It’s an adjustment – slowing down, learning to let others help. Watch for signs of depression and attend to them immediately.  A severe decrease in appetite, less conversation, excessive sleeping… are all signs of depression. Depression is not always an easy fix but seeking the help of the primary care physician as well as additional check-up calls and visits from friends and family help. Most importantly, encourage your parent to do what they are able.  It may take longer to walk around the block, but walking is good.  Always check with their physician as to what can be done or not.

Helplessness – There is a sense of helplessness attached to releasing physical care to a child. The ability to be johnny-on-the-spot when a child is in need fades due to illness or frailty. Work with aging parents to maintain their usefulness. Make them a viable and important part of the family. Seek outside caregivers through reputable companies such as Comfort Keepers, to help seniors maintain a good quality of activity and a sense of being needed.

The steps into aging acceptance can be rocky at best, but with patience and love aging parents will come into compliance with reality. Above all else, continue to be an active part of your parent’s lives – develop wonderful lasting memories for the future.