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Title: Experiencing the death of a significant other : a preliminary investigation of factors associated with the risk of long term psychological distress in older people
Author: Downes-Grainger, Elin C.
Awarding Body: University of London
Current Institution: University College London (University of London)
Date of Award: 2001
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Attachment Theory is regarded as relevant from 'cradle to grave' but little research has focused on older people. It has also been established as an important framework within which to understand individual reactions to the death of a loved one. The reactions to grief are wide ranging and for some people can be extremely long lasting and have detrimental effects on physical and mental health. Research on younger adults has identified a number of common risk factors (mode of death, relationship to the deceased, previous mental health difficulties and social support) after a death. The primary aim of the current study was to explore the effects of attachment and the identified risk factors in younger people, in a sample of older people who had lost a significant other. The study utilised a retrospective non-randomised post-test only design with thirty two people aged over sixty-five. The participants were drawn from four sources (bereavement support groups, bereavement counselling service, psychologists for older people, the community) and had been bereaved for between nine months and thirty years. Only two people were interviewed from the community and thus these two were not included in sub-group comparisons. There were no systematic differences between the other three source groups in terms of gender, marital status or occupation. All participants were assisted in completing a number of self-report questionnaires relating to their psychological well-being, attachment style, relationship with their parents during childhood, social support and questions about the bereavement Despite the length of time that some people had been bereaved, the death of a significant other had a lasting impact on all the participants. The findings indicated that attachment style and quality of parenting did not have any significant relationship with psychological well-being. Further findings indicated that the other risk factors identified in younger people after a bereavement were important in an older sample. Older people experienced less psychological well-being if the death had been sudden, if the death was of an adult-child, if they had experienced a number of deaths within a short time frame, if they were not satisfied with their social support and if they had few social supports. The measure of psychological well-being used had a strong effect on the importance of the various risk factors. The findings of the study are limited by the possible biases of a retrospective, non- randomised design and also by the measures of attachment and quality of parenting that were used These measures were not validated with the current sample (i.e. older and bereaved) in mind Despite these limitations the findings offer some support that after a death of a significant other, older people suffer from the same factors of risk as younger people. There is also a strong indication that the impact of the death of a significant other has a lifelong effect on psychological well-being which is not easily altered by the experience of receiving psychological or supportive help. These findings will be discussed in relation to the experiences of older people and the implications for health professional.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available