Loneliness and Social Isolation in Seniors
It was way back in the nineties when I had lost my mother and I was persuading my father to wind up his home and move with me. He took three years to decide and moved with me. Here, I had constructed a completely independent unit on the first floor for him. I want him to go out and meet people of his age group. His constant refrain was that I have left my friends in Hisar and it is difficult to make friends at this age. He was just 60 and healthy and very active at that time. I used to wonder, what friendship has to do with age. A very outgoing person, I can see that he is becoming introvert with age. Let us explore more about this and how this can be avoided or handled.
Lonliness and social disconnect is a serious health hazard for elders. Loneliness is the feeling of being alone regardless of any number of social contacts. Social isolation is a lack of social connections. We, humans, are social animals. We need to be connected with fellow humans to survive and thrive. I think, this is better understood after Covid 19 induced lockdowns, where we all have been cut-off from friends and families. One can feel lonely after the death of a spouse or partner, separation from friends or family, or even after retirement. Any mobility constraint also contributes to the loneliness factor.
India is a country of young but we have a considerable proportion of elderly people. A report published in January 2021 says that 3.4 % of those above 45 years of age and 5.7 % of senior citizens live alone without any support from family and friends. Older people who stay alone are more prone to neglecting their health. Experts have linked these conditions in seniors to cognitive decline and increased stress and anxiety. The feeling of unworthiness and depression can also be developed due to no or fewer social interactions. With fewer social interactions, they are unaware of the latest development in society and become targets of scammers.
The “Longitudinal Ageing Study in India” recently released a report which focuses on the health, economy, and social well-being of India’s elderly population. Over 72,000 individuals above the age of 45 years in 30 states and 8 union territories were sampled. Tamil Nadu and Nagaland have the highest percentage of the elderly population living alone without any support, the report said, while the lowest is found in Jammu & Kashmir, Punjab, and Delhi. The high rate of elderly living alone can be linked to the migration of the working population from their native places because low availability of white-collar government jobs. In Tamil Nadu, as per the data released by Census, the main reasons behind the working population moving out are education, marriage, and business. This is seen more in rural areas than in urban. The places like Delhi, where there is a wide scope of jobs and work, elders are not alone. The children stays in the family home. Another side of the coin is where many seniors prefer to settle down and live alone in smaller towns .
This is ironic that in the era of hyper-connectivity, our aging population is struggling with loneliness and is disconnecting from society. The feeling of loneliness is not just a human emotion but a complex response due to a lack of companionship. In Japan, affluent elderly ladies are resorting to shoplifting to go to jail because they are unable to handle the eerie silence in their affluent empty homes.
In India, according to a study by Agewell Foundation, one in every two elderly individuals suffer from loneliness and every fifth of senior citizens needs some kind of psychological counseling.
What can one do to avoid loneliness and social disconnect? Being alone is not being lonely.
- If your day is spent in doing different interesting activities, it stimulates mind and awareness. So, the first step is to have a structured day and be busy.
- Make efforts to socialize with your kind of people. It is easier to socialize in small towns where people have time, unlike in bigger cities where no one has time for others.
- It is good to develop a hobby that will keep one engaged happily.
- Go to public spaces, like gardens or walking areas, and look for some community activity in these places. One can join a laughter club or yoga classes or any other activity which may be of interest.
- It is good to take charge of life as much as you can and do chores like banking, shopping, and running household errands.
- It is a good idea to find and identify a useful activity. The children are busy and will remain so as they have to earn their living. Loneliness only creeps up on you when you are self-centered – living for yourself .
- If the younger generation does not have time for you. Why not do something for others?” It is time to give back to the society. Take up some issues and see how your loneliness will go out of the window and positivity, good health, and happiness will enter into your senior years.
- Make efforts to go out and watch children play or go for a drive because seeing people going about their daily life stimulates the mind.
It is good idea to look ahead and plan for the future while still young. Build social networks that will stay with you and will be fully dependable.
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