Grief for seniors likened to trauma

An estimated 10 million Americans suffer from what experts call “prolonged grief” that experts say disproportionately affects the elderly and is characterized by a daily yearning for the deceased individual, feeling emotionally numb, and having difficulty moving on with life.

“There’s a trauma aspect to the grief,” said Dr. Kevin Kip, a University of South Florida professor.

Kip and colleagues are embarking on a two-year study of a type of psychotherapy—called accelerated resolution therapy, or ART—that has been proven effective with sexual assault victims and military personnel suffering with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). The study, funded with a $275,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging, will examine the usefulness of ART in treating 50 senior citizens whose immediate family member in hospice care died within the last 12 to 18 months. According to Kip, the seniors are suffering “prolonged, complicated grief,” as determined by a qualified clinician.

Kip, an epidemiologist and biostatistician, said such grief is a significant cause of depression, anxiety, suicide and poor physical health in older adults.

“It’s a longing for the person, an empty purpose to life. These people are haunted by the death and are continually ruminating about it. In that way, it’s a lot like PTSD,” Kip said.