Heartbreak Syndrome and How to Help Those Who are Grieving

In his documentary about grief, George Shelley uses an analogy of glitter. Toss a handful of glitter into the air, and it is going to settle into most of the crevices and cracks of the room, impossible to fully sweep up and remove. Anyone who has ever lost a loved one can relate. Yet in certain instances, grief may be so overwhelming that it can result in a serious and aptly-named condition: heartbreak syndrome.

Heartbreak syndrome is a very real physical condition from the intense stress experienced in some kinds 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 away just four months following the loss of his wife and George H.W. Bush, who became ill after the death of his wife of 73 years.

Researchers have been studying the impact of grief on a person’s physical health for years. In 1995, for instance, the term “widowhood effect” was coined to describe the thirty percent rise 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.

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

A trained caregiving companion from Seniorcorp, an award-winning home health agency in Portsmouth, VA, can also be a terrific way to help a senior who is grieving. We offer socialization and lots of opportunities for reminiscing and conversations, along with engaging activities, transportation wherever an older adult wishes to go, and more. Email or call us at 757-640-0557 for a no cost in-home consultation to find out more. For a full list of all of the communities where we provide care, please visit our Service Area page.