Broken Heart Syndrome and How to Help Those Who are Grieving

senior lady with broken heart looking at old photo

Broken heart syndrome is a physical reaction to grief, and it is more common than many people imagine.

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 all of the crevices and cracks of the room, impossible to fully sweep up and remove. Individuals who have 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: broken heart syndrome.

Broken heart syndrome is a very real physical condition due to the intense stress experienced in certain forms 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 is more prevalent 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 after the loss of his wife of 73 years.

Researchers have been analyzing 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 increase in mortality rate faced by individuals 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.

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

An experienced caregiving companion from CareWorks Health Services can also be a terrific way to help a loved one who is grieving. We offer socialization and lots of opportunities for conversations and reminiscing, as well as engaging activities, transportation wherever a senior wishes to go, and much more. Reach out to us at (949) 859-4700 for a free of charge in-home consultation and for more information about our award-winning elder care in Huntington Beach, CA and nearby areas.