Understand Broken Heart Syndrome and How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving

Understand Broken Heart Syndrome and How to Help Someone Who Is Grieving

In his documentary about grief, George Shelley uses an analogy of glitter. Toss a handful of glitter into the air, and it’s going to settle into most of the cracks and crevices of the room, impossible to fully sweep up and remove. Individuals who have 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. Understanding this condition and how to help someone who is grieving may not fully alleviate the person’s pain, but it’s a good place to begin.

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’s more common than you might know. A number of high-visibility examples include Johnny Cash, who passed on just four months after the loss of his wife and George H.W. Bush, who became ill following the loss of his wife of 73 years.

Researchers have been analyzing the impact of grief on an individual's physical health for years. In 1995, for example, the term “widowhood effect” was coined to explain the 30 percent increase in mortality rate faced by those who lost a longtime partner. Other scientists determined a connection between grief and the immune system. 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 suggestions.

  • Provide a listening ear and encourage the person to express their grief in a healthy way.
  • Help the person stay engaged in comforting, enjoyable activities whenever possible.
  • Talk about the lost loved one, allowing the opportunity for shared stories and memories.
  • Make sure the person is staying hydrated, eating healthy foods, and getting plenty of sleep.
  • Look for a grief support group for the person to attend, either virtually or in person.
  • Emphasize to 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 senior speak with a counselor to work through overwhelming emotions.

An experienced caregiving companion from Amy’s Helping Hands, the top provider of home care in Windsor, Ontario and the surrounding areas, can also be a great way to help a senior who is grieving. We provide socialization and plenty of opportunities for conversations and reminiscing, as well as engaging activities, transportation wherever a senior would like to go, and so much more. Reach out to us at 519-915-4370 for a free in-home consultation to get started.