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Physical Should Follow Death of Spouse

Following the death of a spouse, you should schedule an appointment with your senior loved one's doctor for a physical to evaluate any medical problems including depression.

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The death of a spouse can have a dramatic and negative impact on an older adult. That’s why family caregivers should keep a close eye on a parent who has lost a spouse. A good first step is a doctor’s physical.

Q. Our dad died last year and Mom, who’s 76, seems to have lost her social circle of friends. In addition, she has no interest in getting out or doing much of anything. She always loved socializing when dad was alive. How can we help her continue to have an active life?

We asked eldercare expert and author Jacqueline Marcell to provide input to your mother’s situation. Marcell suggests that you first schedule an appointment with your mom’s doctor for a physical to evaluate any medical problems including depression, which is very possible from her recent loss.

Unfortunately, loss of initiative could also be an early warning sign of dementia, Marcell says. “Nearly one of every five persons by the age of 75 gets some form of dementia, including Alzheimer’s disease, and she should be tested. Her symptoms could be a sign of depression, or dementia, or both,” she added.

“Ask her primary care physician for a referral to a geriatric dementia specialist or geriatric neurologist, who will take the time to do all the many tests needed to uncover the earliest stage,” Marcell said. “Be aware that there are some reversible dementias that the doctor should rule out.  The right doctor is the first key, and early diagnosis and treatment can slow the progression of dementia. Her doctor can then prescribe medication or the appropriate treatment for her,” she said.

After all her medical conditions have been properly evaluated and treated, call friends and family and ask them to pick a day of the week when they can routinely contact her. Ask them to visit as often as possible and to invite her to do things.

Look into the closest senior centers that have a variety of activities that may get her interested again. Go with her the first few times and then have friends accompany her until she gets acclimated and makes new friends.

Or, if you want a more dependable schedule, look into hiring a companion, such as a CAREGiverSM from the local Home Instead® office. The organization makes every effort to match CAREGivers with seniors of like interests.

Jacqueline Marcell is an author, publisher, radio host, speaker and eldercare advocate. Visit her website at


Last revised: August 23, 2011

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