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November 24, 2023

Supporting Adults with Learning Disabilities Through Bereavement

6 practical ways to support individuals with learning disabilities through the grieving process.

For all of us, bereavement can be incredibly hard to bear, whether it involves the death of a family member, a friend, a colleague, or even a pet.  The sense of loss can be overwhelming and in the difficult times that follow a death, we all need help and support, both emotionally and practically.

Challenges for adults with learning disabilities

While we all struggle to navigate bereavement, it can be especially hard for adults with learning disabilities. Depending on the nature of the disability, individuals may struggle to fully comprehend the gravity and irreversibility of the situation, and might find it difficult to communicate their feelings clearly.

There are many other factors besides an individual’s disability which may affect their capacity to process news of a death: the strength and nature of the relationship with the deceased; whether the death was sudden or expected; what their care and support network looks like; and cultural or religious factors, to name but a few.

Emotional and practical implications

It can be tempting to try and shield individuals from grief, out of a desire to protect them, or because we feel anxious about delivering such a difficult message. We may, understandably, worry about whether they will be able to process what has happened, and may even doubt our ability to communicate this clearly and gently in a way that is easily understood.

On top of the emotional ramifications, there are the subsequent practical issues which may affect an individual in the event of a death, depending on their relationship to the person who has died. For example, when a family member who is also a caregiver dies, there can be numerous practical implications to consider: who will take over care? Where will the individual live? How will they adapt to a new carer or environment? Will the financial situation be impacted?

Dealing with the news of a death causes upheaval and uncertainty that can be immensely distressing for an individual with learning disabilities, as well as those around them. Again, depending on the extent of their mental capacity and disability, they may not be able to communicate their questions and concerns easily, and might be left feeling isolated, grief-stricken, confused, and even angry.

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