More than 100,000 older adults living in seniors' residences in Québec are regularly confronted by the loss of a loved one or member of their entourage due to their age and living environment. And yet, not much is known about the consequences of this loss on their psychological well-being and studies that specifically look at grief among seniors are virtually non-existent.
While the death of a resident is discussed openly in some institutions, in others it is barely mentioned.
Valérie Bourgeois-Guérin, a psychology researcher at Université du Québec à Montréal, wanted to better understand how elderly people experience grief and identify what might be helpful or harmful at these difficult times. She interviewed 26 seniors aged 65 to 95 living in twelve Montréal residences.
Her work shows that many seniors see bereavement and grief as an opportunity to reflect on the things they want to do before dying, or to prepare for their own deaths. However, grief can also give rise to anxiety. In particular, the researcher found that the silence that sometimes surrounds the death of an elderly resident can lead to distress among friends and neighbours, who may not know the circumstances surrounding the death. They may worry that their own end will take place in the same deafening silence. While the death of a resident is discussed openly in some institutions, in others it is barely mentioned.
These results have been the subject of scientific communications, as well as discussion with the staff and management of seniors' residences. They will help lift taboos around death and develop intervention approaches for supporting seniors – as well as those who work with them – during periods of bereavement.