Broken Heart Syndrome and How to Help Those Who are Grieving

a senior lady grieving over an old photo
Grief after the loss of a loved one can lead to a medical condition commonly called broken heart syndrome.

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. Like glitter, grief makes its way into the corners of the mind and can resurface again when emotions are stirred.  In certain instances, grief can 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 from the intense stress experienced with certain kinds 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’s more common than you might realize. A number of high-visibility examples include George H.W. Bush, who became ill following the death of his wife of 73 years, and Johnny Cash, who passed on just four months after the loss of his wife. 

Researchers have been analyzing the impact of grief on an individual’s physical health for decades. In 1995, for example, the term “widowhood effect” was coined to describe the 30% increase in mortality rate faced by individuals who lost a longtime partner. Other scientists determined a connection between the immune system and grief. Some surviving spouses simply lose the will to live. 

You can help prevent this condition and ease the pain of grief for someone you love with these tips.

  • Make sure the person is staying hydrated, eating well balanced meals, and getting lots of sleep.
  • Look for a grief support group for the person to attend, either virtually or in person.
  • Remind your loved one  of everything they have to live for and that continuing to live a vibrant life is the best way to honor the lost loved one’s legacy and that it’s what they would want for their surviving loved ones.
  • Recommend to your loved that they speak with a counselor to work through overwhelming emotions and worries.
  • Help the person stay engaged in comforting, enjoyable activities as much as possible.
  • Talk about the lost loved one, allowing the opportunity for shared stories and memories.
  • Provide a listening ear and encourage the person to convey their grief in a healthy way.

A professional care manager or caregiver from JFS Care can also help a loved one who is grieving. Our care managers work with families to assist them through helping a loved one who is experiencing profound grief. They can also coordinate with other professionals who are helping the older adult, including doctors, pharmacists, and other providers. Additionally, our in-home caregivers can provide socialization and opportunities for reminiscing, along with engaging activities, transportation wherever an older adult would like to go, and more. 

Email us or call 213-383-2273 for a no-cost  consultation to find out more about our Jewish family services in North Hollywood and the surrounding areas. For more information, see our full service area page.