By Jackie Waters

Dealing with the loss of a spouse is a devastating life change, and the symptoms of grief can extend far beyond what many of us have ever experienced. For seniors, that loss can come with depression, anxiety, and confusion, especially if they themselves are dealing with health issues like dementia or Alzheimer’s.

It can be difficult to know how to help a loved one who is going through such a loss; you may feel helpless as you watch them cycle through the stages of grief, but the truth is, simply being there and becoming part of a support system is very important for someone who is coping with a major death in the family. You can also help your loved one find ways to take care of themselves in the aftermath of their loss and minimize stress and learn how to make life work without their partner.

Here are some of the best ways to get started.

Do some research

According to Neptune Society, “Before you can help a person with Alzheimer’s cope with the loss of a loved one, it’s important to understand how the grieving process works and the various stages of grief individuals typically experience.”

The stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. While some researchers believe that grief always comes in these stages, others think that grief is much more sneaky than that. It can sometimes creep up after weeks or months and affect the mourner’s daily life by cutting into sleep, reducing appetite, and softening focus. For seniors who are affected by cognitive issues, these symptoms can become overwhelming and cause confusion. Do some research on grief and how it can affect a senior, and find out how you can help your loved one best.

Step in

Whether or not your loved one took care of the household or their partner did, they’ll need some help immediately after their loss. Think about chores such as laundry, cleaning the kitchen, mowing the lawn, and vacuuming and ask family members for help if you need to. This will keep you from becoming overwhelmed by tasks and will allow your loved one to focus on themselves rather than on daily tasks.

Help them stay healthy

It’s not easy to take care of ourselves when we’re grieving, so help your loved one stay healthy by accompanying them for a walk every day, preparing balanced meals (you might consider protein shakes if their appetite isn’t where it should be), and staying social. These are all difficult tasks for someone who is dealing with a loss, especially if they are showing signs of depression such as having trouble sleeping or eating, are unable to focus or having mood swings, or are withdrawing from friends and family. If getting your loved one out of the house is difficult, think about seeking out a support group or therapist.

It might also be helpful for your loved one to have a pet, if they don’t already. Dogs and cats can be extremely helpful and loyal companions for seniors, especially if they are going through a major loss.

Don’t make any major changes

Keeping things on an even keel is important for seniors who are dealing with grief, especially if making preparations was difficult for them. So many changes occurring in a short amount of time can be more than overwhelming; they can exacerbate feelings of depression and loss. Ask friends and family to help keep everything on track by keeping things civil, as a death in the family can sometimes lead to tension. Urge your loved one not to make any major changes–such as selling their home–right away in an effort to minimize stress and anxiety.