Loneliness may be described as a feeling of emptiness or sadness that is triggered when there is a lack of communication or a feeling of companionship with other people. Loneliness can affect anyone of any age, but older people are more likely to feel lonely. As people grow older, they are more likely to lose loved ones and may live alone. They are also more likely to experience health problems, which make it harder for them to do everyday things and pursue hobbies and recreational activities. All of these can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. Rita talks about loneliness amongst the elderly and tells us what each one of us could do to make them feel loved and belonging. Here’s her compassionate appeal, in the weekly column, exclusively for Different Truths.
You just have to look around you to see the many faces of loneliness. While we are all lonely within our own little worlds, it’s the elderly who are most affected by loneliness. We come across them walking alone with unsteady steps in the morning. We see them sitting on park benches staring at the distance, as if trying to conjure up those days when family was around and friends paid visits. We also see them trudging to the market or the pharmacy, struggling to do everyday chores. Many of these seniors exist, but have ceased to live.
What is Loneliness?
Loneliness may be described as a feeling of emptiness or sadness that is triggered when there is a lack of communication or a feeling of companionship with other people. Loneliness can affect anyone of any age, but older people are more likely to feel lonely. As people grow older, they are more likely to lose loved ones and may live alone. They are also more likely to experience health problems, which make it harder for them to do everyday things and pursue hobbies and recreational activities. All of these can increase feelings of loneliness and isolation. While loneliness can be present on a daily basis, it is usually felt even more acutely during festivals and special days like birthdays and anniversaries.
Main Causes of Loneliness
Living alone — Living all by oneself is one of the main reasons of loneliness among the elderly. With the joint family system on the decline, the older members of the family are left to fend for themselves, once their children leave home. The safety net of caregivers that living in a joint family provided is no longer there. And for those who have lost a spouse, loneliness is even more acute.
Retirement — Work requires a routine and involves getting out of the house, meeting people, interacting with colleagues and staying focused on goals and deadlines. Retirement puts a stop to this busy, routine-driven life, giving rise to a feeling of loneliness.
Poor health — Medical conditions that confine one to the home or cause loss of mobility can make it more difficult to socialise and go about everyday routines, giving rise to a feeling of inadequacy and loneliness.
Medical condition — Sometimes loneliness can occur without any of the above reasons. It may alternatively be caused by certain medical conditions, such as degenerative brain conditions like Alzheimer’s or dementia. Depression can also be both a cause and a consequence of loneliness.
Loneliness among the elderly should not be taken lightly and should be closely monitored. You can help a senior family member, relative, neighbour, or acquaintance overcome loneliness by paying attention to the signs indicating that a senior’s well-being might be deteriorating.
Building a network of family and friends — A senior who is feeling lonely appreciates knowing that someone is thinking about them. Visit the person as often as you can. If you have a busy schedule, make shorter visits more often. Call the person regularly and encourage him or her to phone you. Show interest in the topics they are interested in – health, hobbies and problems. If the person is a family member or relative, arrange family get-togethers when possible, so they can meet grandchildren and other members of the family, who might not live close by.
Spending time outside the home — Since an elderly person might be unsure about going out by themselves, accompany them on morning walks, grocery shopping or during errands. Take them out for an occasional lunch or movie and encourage them to pursue their hobbies.
Medical needs—A senior needs regular medical monitoring and often finds managing doctor appointments, getting medicines, lab tests too much to handle by themselves. Offer to get them their medicines from the pharmacy or refill their prescriptions online and accompany them on doctor visits, so they feel assured that someone has their back. That’s what we do at arogyahomecare.in. Because we know that the elderly feel particularly vulnerable when they are unwell and unable to do simple things they could do earlier.
All of us must do our part to contribute to the well-being of our senior citizens and take measures that help them conquer loneliness and lead full, fulfilling lives.
Pix from the Net.
Rita Bhattacharjee is a communications consultant with extensive experience in managing corporate and internal communications for companies across diverse industries, including non-profit organizations. She is the co-founder of Mission Arogya and Arogya HomeCare and has recently relocated from the US to India to channel her skills towards social entrepreneurship to increase awareness and reduce disparity in public health. She also writes poetry, some of which have been published in reputed international journals.