Beyond “DEATH and Dying” — Part 1

Managing Grief to Improve Occupancy


image002Forty years ago, Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote “On Death and Dying” and her theories have been used ever since to help caregivers provide support to terminal patients.  BUT, THESE SAME CONCEPTS APPLY TO EVERY ONE OF US EVERY DAY!

Because we work with seniors, dying and the prospect of death are something with which we deal; however this article will    expand Kubler-Ross’ theories into everyday life, dealing with all forms of GRIEF.  By learning her “5 Stages of Grief” and applying them to all aspects of a current or prospective resident’s life, you will be able to build a better relationship with that individual and achieve higher occupancy levels.

Basically, GRIEF MANAGEMENT = Learning to Accept Loss! Kubler-Ross stated that a human will – and must – go through 4 stages of grief before reaching the 5th stage of ACCEPTANCE, as depicted below:


This diagram shows that the stages are progressive, but that the individual may regress from one stage to another before finally reaching a level of acceptance.  Hope is the one emotion that influences this behavior.

Whenever any of us suffers any type of loss, we grieve and must progress through these stages to cope with the situation and maintain good emotional health.  Here’s an example to demonstrate how these emotions play out in a real-life situation:

You are driving down the highway when you see flashing lights in your rear-view mirror – what’s your first reaction (after quickly checking the speedometer)?  DENIAL – it’s not a policeman and/or he’s not after me – right?

Then, when he pulls in behind you and motions you to move over, don’t you tend to get a little angry?  Don’t you think, “why is he picking on me, there were at least 3 other cars that went speeding past me – why didn’t he catch them instead of me?”

Next comes a little bargaining – and HOPE that maybe you can get off with a warning this time:  “Officer, I didn’t mean to speed, I didn’t see that the speed limit changed, I was just over the speed limit for a little bit there – I don’t normally speed, etc.”  And then there’s the silent prayer – “Dear Lord, I promise I’ll never speed again if you just let me NOT GET A TICKET TODAY!”

But, you get your ticket and notice to pay a fine or appear in court.  Now, you’re embarrassed (after all, you got caught “breaking the law”), and hurt financially (maybe you have to forgo buying something that you wanted).  Every time you look at that notice, you get a little angry again and try to figure out some way to avoid paying the fine.  Then, you just get depressed over the whole episode – LIFE’S NOT FAIR!

Finally, you decide to just pay the fine and get on with your life – you’ve reached ACCEPTANCE.

Of course, the losses faced by seniors are much more serious, but the process is the same.  In building a relationship with that individual, it is important to understand what losses they have endured and their psychological stage in the grieving process related to that loss.  One or more of those “losses” will likely have a direct impact on their decision to move into a senior living community.

Common examples of losses encountered by seniors include:

The death of the spouse or other long-term companion. This is particularly problematic when the death occurs unexpectedly and the surviving spouse has not prepared for the death.  Several classic cases are a) the husband who has always handled all of the finances for the couple passes away, leaving the wife over-whelmed with the details of wrapping up his finances and b) the wife who dies first with the husband unprepared to deal with daily household activities.

Loss of some type of physical ability. The senior may have had a stroke or heart attack resulting in limited mobility.  They could have restrictions in their activities as the result of a fall or surgery.  Or, they may face on-going decline in eyesight or hearing, effects of arthritis, diabetes or other chronic disease.

Some level of diminished mental capacity. This may be as simple as increasing forgetfulness or early stages of Alzheimer’s or other dementia.  Often, this “loss” is noticed and expressed as a concern by family members.

The Spouse or other caregiver experiences a decline in their own health and becomes unable to provide the previous level of support. It’s not uncommon to see a fairly rapid decline in the health and condition of one spouse after the other suffers an acute episode.   In other situations, the single individual may have one or more friends who provide various caregiving services (e.g. take them to doctor visits).  When that friend is unable to continue that service, the senior loses a degree of independence.

Child / grandchild caregiver moved away. Especially in today’s volatile economy, a senior may not be able to count on their adult child remaining in place and able to provide care services for them.

Driving privileges suspended.  This may be a result of doctor’s orders due to physical or mental capacity, family members’ “taking away the keys”, or state licensing restrictions.

If the individual suffering one or more of these losses is already a resident in your senior living community, you can enrich their experience by understanding the impact of the loss on their life and independence.  By providing HOPE and demonstrating alternatives, you will be able to retain the resident and delay or prevent their “discharge” to a higher level of care!

image002For the prospective resident, the KEY is to build an effective relationship that will lead to a move-in.  Learn the type of losses the senior has endured and then understand their stage of grief.  The right marketing approach must then be customized for that loss and stage of grief!

Part 2 of this series will discuss the Denial Stage and what you should do to effectively market individuals in that phase.

You may also want to view the PowerPoint Presentation on SlideShare.


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One CommentLeave a comment

  1. Hi Art,

    Great job on your two blogs about the stages of grief. I sure see all stages on a weekly basis while doing my clinical work as a chaplain resident. I like how you made them practical for those working for seniors.

    Denny Nutter


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