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Caregiving & Situational Loss

Wherever there are challenges and adversity, there is situational loss. One of the ways I help older family caregivers of the chronically ill, as a social worker and coach, is by training them to use the components of the 3-A Approach: Acknowledge, Assess, Assist to process their situational losses.

Situational Loss is loss of a person, thing or quality resulting from an alteration of a life situation involving changes related to , in addition to death, illness, change in body image and environment

This definition from the Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, 8th ed., 2009 is all encompassing, most precisely defining the caregivers’ loss experience. They are not experiencing loss due to death. Rather the loss stems from having a close family member with a progressive, neurological or chronic mental illness - any ongoing chronic illness for that matter. With chronic, ongoing illness, new losses occur as the illness progresses that could be related to the illness, change in body image and/or change in environment.

Tibor was a carer for his spouse who was diagnosed with early onset dementia under the age of 60. In an online interview Dementia and Family Caregiving: Unmasking the Spouse's Grief, he acknowledged the subsequent losses stemming from his spouse's illness. The losses included the companionship she provided, the roles his spouse played as a life partner and financial loss .

When I was employed as a community outreach social worker, I often heard aging adults who were providing care proclaiming ‘The Golden Years are not so Golden!’ They were expressing loss of the ideal, their senior years were not turning out as planned. This loss of ideal is also experienced by family members of individuals with other chronic illnesses such as with Schizophrenia. Parents had different visions for their children’s adult years.

Grief is a reaction to a signigicant loss that can impact adversely. Grief has been assessed to be a major barrier that family caregivers face. There is a problem when the grief gets buried under the demands of care or/and the care recipients needs come before the caregivers needs, potentially leading to poor health and burnout. Through resourcing and processing the grief, burnout can be prevented and health enhanced.

More information and resources can be found on

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