Independent Age: New report recommends national bereavement provision
Independent Age are calling on the government to establish a national point of contact for bereavement, with a pathway to ensure everyone who needs it gets good quality, timely support.
Death and bereavement are not subjects that are well recognised or prioritised within UK society. Where policy does exist, it is disparate and unconnected. Support for bereaved older people is therefore highly localised and depends on the availability and attention of third sector organisations.
Older people’s experiences following the loss of a partner vary hugely. In a new report released today, Independent Age set out to learn more about those experiences and understand what can be done to ensure more have positive outcomes.
This report brings together what we already know about older people’s experiences of bereavement along with new research centred on older people whose partners have died. We focus on some of the issues faced by those living with the grief of losing a loved one.
We wanted to find out how older people cope with the death of partner and how it impacts them. Where do they turn for help and do they find it? Could older people be better served? What needs to change to support people better with their grief and to have the fullest life possible without their partner.
Through primary and secondary research we have identified 4 key themes for our findings of how older people are affected by the loss of a partner.
Loneliness and Isolation
- Nearly a third of bereaved people over 65 see themselves as very lonely, compared to just 5% of people of the same age who have not lost their partner.
- More than 1 in 5 people said that loneliness was the hardest thing to cope with after.
- Older people who are carers for their dying partner are at greater risk of feeling lonely both before and after their partner dies.
- Family and friends are usually the route to alleviating loneliness, but for those without family, it can be difficult to know where to start.
Mental and physical health
- Older people are more likely to have worse mental health as a result of bereavement than any other age group and older bereaved people are up to four times more likely to experience depression than non-bereaved people.
- An older person whose partner has died is more likely to die in the three months following their partner’s death than someone who hasn’t been bereaved.
- Older people’s health also worsens prior to bereavement, while caring for a dying partner.
- Getting help can be a lottery and too many people lose: GPs have no standard training in dealing with grief and NICE has no pathway for grief to guide GPs.
Financial and practical considerations
- Being independent is (ironically) harder when you’re single. A person’s ability to manage the essentials of day to day living typically decreases following their partner’s death.
- Many people feel overwhelmed by the burden of dealing with multiple systems following their partner’s death. These can include, DWP, HMRC, local authority, pensions and insurance companies, banks etc.
- Women’s household incomes typically fall by £34 per week after the death of their partner, while men tend to see their incomes increase by £12 per week.
- More than two thirds of older people who have lost a partner say that they felt unprepared, either financially or practically, for bereavement, even though in most cases they knew that their partner was going to die.
Feelings and grief
- Grief is more than just sadness. Feelings of relief or release, anger, altered identity, confusion, guilt or a sense of hopelessness, are all common and normal.
- A good death means a better bereavement. Family members of older people given the opportunity to plan ahead and have their wishes enacted, had fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress, depression and anxiety after their loved one’s death.
- Fewer than 1 in 5 people aged over 60 have received counselling following a bereavement and more than half said it was not something of interest to them.
- Nearly half of older people said that their preferred way of remembering their loved one was by talking about them.
Independent Age’s Vision
Our vision is that every older person who experiences partner loss is aware of the support options available to them and is able to access the type of support with which they feel most comfortable. As we age, we are mindful that planning ahead, for death and for living without a partner, can be beneficial. In the future, we want everyone to have the confidence to hold difficult conversations.
To achieve this, we want the government to establish a national point of contact for bereavement, with a pathway to ensure everyone who needs it gets good quality, timely support.
Our calls to action show how the government, the bereavement sector and society as whole can work to make this vision a reality.
Read the full report by Independent Age here.