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What Is Broken Heart Syndrome and How Can You Help a Loved One Experiencing It?

senior woman looking at an old photograph
Our experts in elderly care explain how to help a person experiencing broken heart syndrome.

In his documentary about grief, George Shelley uses the analogy of glitter. Toss a handful of glitter into the air, and it’s going to settle into all the crevices and cracks of the room, impossible to fully sweep up and remove. Anyone who has lost a loved one can relate. Yet in some instances, grief can be so overwhelming that it can 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 is more prevalent than you may know. A number of high-visibility examples include George H.W. Bush, who became ill after the loss of his wife of 73 years, and Johnny Cash, who passed away just four months after the loss of his wife.

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

Help prevent this condition and ease the pain of grief for someone you love with these tips.

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

An experienced caregiving companion from Home Sweet Home In-Home Care, a trusted provider of senior care in Saint Joseph and other Michigan communities, can also be a great way to help a loved one who is grieving. We provide socialization and plenty of opportunities for reminiscing and conversations, along with engaging activities, transportation wherever a senior wishes to go, and more. Give us a call at (866) 229-2505 for a free in-home consultation to learn more.

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