How Parent Loss Affects Brain – Regardless Of Age

Losing a loved one is a thing dreaded by nearly everyone, as all other problems pale into insignificance beside such a tragedy. It is commonly assumed that children are affected by death of a parent to a more significant extent, but it is not that simple, as adults can fail to get over it too. A grief-stricken brain changes, and here is how.

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Adults are vulnerable too

There is no need to explain that the death of a parent invariably leads to depression. Many people experience all stages of grief; some skip one or two, others do not get over it at all.

In psychology, grief usually consists of several stages the order of which may vary. According to the widely used model, in most people, they include denial, anger, depression, ‘bargaining’ (prayer), and–in some–acceptance. However, the stages are not really applicable to people who experience the loss of a loved one, as the Kubler-Ross model, which introduced these stages, was originally developed to describe what patients with terminal illnesses feel. Grief can take different forms, and attributing a particular set of stages to the average person, especially with regard to age, would be wrong.

It is widely believed that losing a parent is an event that affects children more than adults, as their immature mind cannot cope with the loss the way an adult would. However, it is something of a myth: it depends on a person, their own traits of character, circumstances, and a great variety of other factors that come into play.

It would be strange to assume that adults take the death of their parents easy: they do grieve, and finding motivation to keep on living normally may be very hard. It goes without saying that such an adversity is likely to shape the child’s mind and alter it forever, because such news come as a shock and force the child to face grief and problems at a young age. Still, it does not mean that adults cannot suffer due to it simply because they have other business to do (and thus distract their agonizing mind) and knew their parent would die someday.

In adults, the feeling may be even more complex, especially if it is mixed with other emotions and fatigue. Some people lose their parent after struggling for their life for a long time or taking care after them, which is both physically and mentally challenging. If it is a sudden death, it can be even more complicated.

What happens in the brain when you are grief-stricken

In 2003, a team of researchers from Tech University Munich carried out a study in which they looked into what impact grief has on the brain, or what is actually happening to and in it when we grieve.

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Using MRI scans, they found that the feelings of grief are processed in the regions of the brain that are responsible for sleep and appetite, namely the cerebellum, the posterior cingulate cortex, and the frontal cortex, which is perhaps the reason why grieving almost inevitably leads to depression-induced insomnia, overeating and other eating disorders, including loss of appetite, headaches, etc.

Another piece of scientific evidence suggests that those who have lived through such an adversity as parent loss–and their unresolved grief extended to adulthood–are more likely to develop a wide range of diseases, such as cardiovascular diseases, immune disorders, and cancer.

There is no universal solution as to what ways to help someone manage grief there are. A wide range of techniques employed by psychotherapists are used to help patients keep on living, but not everyone responds to such therapies. Since everyone is different, it is impossible to recommend a strategy to learn how to live with this grief, so talking to a priest and/or qualified psychologist can be an option to consider.

References:

Functional Neuroanatomy of Grief: An fMRI Study – ajp.psychiatryonline.org

Why the Five Stages of Grief Are Wrong – psychologytoday.com/intl

Dealing with grief and loss – nhs.uk

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