Loss is a common experience among older adults, and for most of them, grief resolves over time. However, an estimated 10 percent of older adults experience what is known as complicated grief: an intense and long-lasting grief that disrupts relationships and makes it difficult to function effectively or even to care about functioning. Complicated grief can lead to poorer physical and mental health including suicide. The elderly represent 12 percent of the population yet make up 20 percent of all suicides in the U.S. It is important to identify and treat complicated grief. Psychotropic medications and standard grief-focused supportive psychotherapies appear to have little impact on this intense grief.
As part of their research into effective treatments, Xavier University assistant professor Nick Salsman, PhD and associate professor John Barrett, PhD are studying a method which has been proven effective in dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. To test its effectiveness on complicated grief specifically, they are looking for people who want to move beyond their grief and are willing to take part in a research program at no cost. More information is available from John Barrett, PhD at 513-745-4260 or assistant professor Nick Salsman, PhD at 513-745-4289.
Complicated grief may be the problem if someone age 50 years or older exhibits more than three of the following symptoms for longer than six months after the death of a loved one:
• Strong feelings of yearning or longing for the person who died
• Feeling intensely lonely, even when others are around
• Strong feelings of anger or bitterness related to the death
• Feeling like life is empty or meaningless without the person who died
• Thinking so much about the person who died that it interferes with doing things or with relationships with other people
• Strong feelings of disbelief about the death or difficulty accepting the death
• Feeling shocked, stunned, dazed or emotionally numb
• Finding it hard to care about or to trust other people
• Feeling very emotionally or physically activated when confronted with reminders of the loss
• Avoiding people, places, or things that are reminders of the loss
• Strong urges to see, touch, hear, or smell things to feel close to the person who died
Barrett and Salsman are researching a program called Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) skills training. The DBT skills training lasts six months and teaches four sets of skills - mindfulness, emotional regulation, distress tolerance, and interpersonal effectiveness. It is designed to help with depression and problems regulating one’s emotions. Studies have shown it is effective in reducing emotional dysregulation, depression, and suicidal thoughts and behaviors.