THE older people are when they experience bereavement, the more likely it is that they will suffer from depression, and the less likely they are to receive treatment for it, a new report suggests.
The report, Good Grief, was published last month by the older people’s charity Independent Age. It is based on a survey of 200 older people and interviews with those who had recently been bereaved.
The study found that older bereaved people, particularly those aged over 85, were four times more likely to experience depression than those who had not lost a partner; yet they were less likely to be referred to bereavement support than people who were younger, and very few of those aged over 90 were offered any counselling.
This is despite evidence that suggests that older people are more likely than younger people to benefit from psychological therapy after bereavement.
Bereavement counsellors told the report’s authors that often older people would not ask for help because they believe that loss and grief are “just how life goes”.
Each year, 192,000 older people are bereaved, and about 106,000 of them become depressed. This figure is likely to rise sharply as the population ages, the study warns.
Nearly one third of bereaved people aged over 65 describe themselves as very lonely, compared with just five per cent of people of the same age who have not lost their partner
Older people are also more likely to suffer from multiple bereavements in shorter periods of time — perhaps experiencing death of siblings, partner, and friends within the space of a few years. This can lessen the ability to cope with subsequent bereavements.
A condition called “complicated grief” — in which people experience persistent acute grief for a long period of time — causes serious health-risks including increased risk of suicide and a tenfold increase in the risk of high blood pressure.
The study found that men were more likely to suffer from isolation and depression than women after the loss of a partner, but that women were more likely to experience problems such as struggling with a loss of income.
Independent Age is calling for one body that regularly comes into contact with bereaved older people, such as funeral directors, to be responsible for providing information about services and support after the death of a partner or close family member.
The charity wants every older person who experiences the loss of a partner to be aware of the support available.
The chief executive of the charity, Janet Morrison, said: “The death of a partner in older age can be a devastating life event, with emotional, financial, and practical impacts for the bereaved person. Bereavement in older age can lead to loneliness and an increased likelihood of depression, and it is appalling that older bereaved people aren’t being offered the support and access to services that could make a huge difference to their well-being.
“There needs to be a consistent approach to offering bereavement support across the country, so older people who need them can access services that can help them deal with death in their own way.”