Age Fearless: Coping with the loss of a loved one

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A mental health expert says losing a love one is difficult at any age, but for older adults, it can be especially overwhelming.

A mental health expert says losing a loved one is difficult at any age. But for older adults, it can be especially overwhelming.

When comic genius Mel Brooks was immobilized by grief after the death of his wife, Anne Bancroft, he used his World War 2 combat experience - fighting for a few feet at a time - to help recover.

Dr. Darrio LaRocca, Behavioral Health Director at Independence Blue Cross, says today's seniors have been through a myriad of tough experiences, from World War 2 to the Vietnam War.

However, some losses now call for extra attention.

"When you start losing your peers, that's when things can get a little difficult," he says.

Shrinking circles of family and friends can make elders feel lost, isolated or worthless. And normal grieving can become something more serious: depression.

"The main distinction between grief and depression is a loss of self-esteem," Dr. LaRocca says.

Dr. LaRocca says some key signs of depression are changes in daily life routines, such as sleeping or eating, as well as difficulty concentrating.

Other warning signs can include a lack of attention to grooming or personal health, or wishing to be with the person who passed.

Like Brooks, men generally have a tougher time coping after losing a spouse, so they may need more support.

Dr. LaRocca says getting back into favorite activities, or finding new ones with new friends, can help increase those important social connections.

Today, there are a host of opportunities to connect, even online.

But the local senior center may not be their first choice.

"They don't want to hang out with old people," says Dr. LaRocca. "That's what I hear."

Mel Brooks' son said grandchildren also helped bring the funny man back.

Dr. LaRocca gives two thumbs up to that.

"There's nothing like grandchildren," he says.
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