The loss of a loved one is never an easy time. Bereavement and grief affect us all in different ways, but people with learning disabilities often find they are unsupported during this difficult time, their grief unrecognised.
Grief in people with learning disabilities
When someone dies, a loved one with learning disabilities is often overlooked in the bereavement process. It may be due to a misguided belief that they won’t understand what is happening, or that they don’t feel emotion in the same way as someone without learning disabilities. However, just because a person has trouble expressing their emotions, doesn’t mean they don’t exist. People with learning disabilities feel loss and grief just like all of us, so it is important to take the time to explain things and include them in rituals such as funeral arrangements.
Talking about death
Discussing death with a person with learning disabilities may not be easy but it is necessary. Everyone needs to learn about the cycle of life and death to understand and accept it. If you need support in how to have this discussion with a loved one, charities such as Mencap have a lot of useful information.
It is also a good idea to talk about the various ways in which grief can affect people. The different emotions and feelings they might experience and how to deal with them. Talking about the person who died is also important. It may not be easy, but sharing memories and looking at photographs can be a good way to start to come to terms with their loss.
Loss of a loved one and carer
The death of a close relative can also mean the loss of a carer. This can be hugely distressing for someone with learning disabilities. The loss of not just someone they love, but the person who supports them, who knows their ways and understands them best. It can also mean a big life change in that they may need to move home and get to know a new care and support team.
Residential care for people with learning disabilities
Moving into residential care can be a big upheaval at any time of life but dealing with that at the same time as a bereavement can be especially difficult. The loss of a primary carer who is a family member can force just such a situation. This is why we always encourage families to plan for such a possibility. You can’t always know when someone is going to die, but you can be prepared for the eventuality.
What that plan looks like will depend on each personal situation. It could mean moving a loved one into residential care at a time when their primary carer is still alive, well, and able to visit. It might mean bringing a loved one to attend daycare so they can get to know people and get used to the idea of a care home.
A new family
At Halland House, our learning disabilities care home in Uckfield, East Sussex, we think of ourselves as a family. By bringing your loved one to live here, you are giving them a whole new family who can support them when you’re no longer here. We cater for all levels of learning disabilities and have an in-depth process to make sure new residents fit in well.
To find out more about Halland House and our services, please visit our website.