Broken Heart Syndrome: How to Help a Loved One Who Is Grieving

Broken Heart Syndrome: How to Help a Loved One Who Is Grieving
A woman holds a photo of a lost loved one, relying on the support of her family who know how to help a loved one who is grieving.

It’s not easy to know how to help a loved one who is grieving, but these tips are a great place to start.

In his documentary about grief, George Shelley uses an analogy of glitter. Toss a handful of glitter into the air, and it’s going to settle into all the cracks and crevices of the room, impossible to fully sweep up and remove. Those who have lost a loved one can relate. Yet in certain instances, grief could be so overwhelming that it could result in a serious and aptly named condition: broken heart syndrome.

Broken heart syndrome is a very real physical condition from the intense stress experienced in certain types of grief (such as one spouse losing the other after decades of marriage). The medical term is takotsubo cardiomyopathy, a temporary enlargement of the heart that prevents it from pumping blood effectively.

And, it’s more common than you might know. A number of high-visibility examples include Johnny Cash, who passed on just four months following the loss of his wife and George H.W. Bush, who became ill following the loss of his wife of 73 years .

Researchers have been studying the impact of grief on a person’s physical health for decades. In 1995, for example, the term “widowhood effect” was coined to describe the 30 percent increase in mortality rate faced by people who lost a longtime partner. Other scientists determined a connection between grief and the immune system. Some surviving spouses simply lose the will to live.

These tips can help you better know how to help a loved one who is grieving and prevent this debilitating condition.

  • Provide a listening ear and encourage the person to convey their grief in a healthy way.
  • Talk about the lost loved one, allowing the opportunity for shared stories and memories.
  • Look for a grief support group for the person to attend, either in person or virtually.
  • Help the person stay involved with comforting, enjoyable activities whenever possible.
  • Emphasize to the person everything they have to live for, and that doing so is the best way to honor the lost loved one’s legacy.
  • Recommend the person speak with a therapist to effectively work through overwhelming emotions.
  • Make sure the person is staying hydrated, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of sleep.

A trained caregiving companion from Hired Hands Homecare is also a great way to help a senior who is grieving. We provide socialization and an abundance of opportunities for conversations and reminiscing, as well as engaging activities, transportation wherever an older adult wishes to go, and much more. Call us at (866) 940-4343 for a no-cost in-home consultation to find out more information about our home care services in Novato, Petaluma, Santa Rosa, and the surrounding areas.

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