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The fallout from losing friends and how treatment tackles it

How treatment could help you recover from the loss of a loved one

<p>Grief is experienced by many Australians but more severe cases may be identified as prolonged grief disorder. [Source: Shutterstock]</p>

Grief is experienced by many Australians but more severe cases may be identified as prolonged grief disorder. [Source: Shutterstock]

Key points

Over 70 percent of older Australians ‘have experienced at least one bereavement’ in the last two and a half years as per the Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration.

Losing a loved one is never easy and experiencing grief after loss is common, however, grief can be experienced differently by everyone. Some aspects of the grieving process may include denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

While most people will experience grief when a loved one passes away, symptoms that remain severe for over six months may mean that someone is experiencing prolonged grief disorder, according to the International Classification of Diseases

Risk factors for prolonged grief disorder include being female and having a high dependence on the deceased person. Researchers from the Melbourne Ageing Research Collaboration suggest that prolonged grief disorder prevalence may be as high as 20 percent in adults over the age of 65 years. 

Symptoms of prolonged grief may include:

  • either extreme avoidance or focus on reminders of your loved one;
  • intense sadness about your loss;
  • not accepting the death;
  • intense and constant longing for your loved one.

Over one million Australians reported being widowed, according to data from the most recent Census. With so many Australians having lost loved ones, identifying an appropriate treatment for people affected by prolonged grief disorder is crucial.

Researchers at the University of New South Wales have found evidence for two methods that could effectively treat prolonged grief in Australians.

In the recently released study, participants engaged in weekly therapy sessions for 11 weeks and either received grief-focused cognitive behaviour therapy or mindfulness training. 

The grief-focused cognitive behaviour therapy included:

  • recalling memories of the deceased;
  • reframing the way the person thought about the deceased;
  • planning activities to increase community participation.

Conversely, the use of mindfulness included understanding feelings associated with grief so that grief-related stress could be better tolerated.

Scientia Professor Richard Bryant led the study and hoped that the results would indicate a new pathway for the treatment of prolonged grief disorder. 

“While both treatments offered relief during the course of the therapy, relapse tended to occur following mindfulness, whereas treatment gains continued to occur in the grief-focused cognitive behaviour therapy group,” Professor Bryant said.

However, Professor Bryant reiterated that, when maintained, mindfulness may be a viable option for patients who don’t wish to engage in cognitive behaviour therapy.

“It’s true that all trials to date have highlighted that CBT is the treatment of choice when dealing with prolonged grief disorder.

“[However,] our research does show that symptom relief can also be achieved by an alternate approach such as mindfulness,” said Professor Bryant.

No time is being wasted as further studies to learn more about cognitive behaviour therapy and prolonged grief disorder are being investigated, according to Professor Bryant.

“The UNSW Traumatic Stress Clinic is currently conducting further trials to determine how CBT can help more people reduce their persistent grief,” said Professor Bryant. 

If you have lost a loved one and are struggling to cope, seeking professional help is a good idea. A comprehensive list of helplines and services is available here.

Letting yourself grieve the loss, eating healthy foods, connecting with family and friends and remembering the good times with your loved one are positive ways to process what’s happened.


Have you lost a loved one? How are you coping?

Let the team at Talking Aged Care know on social media. 

For more information and news in the aged care industry, subscribe to our free newsletter. 

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