Epidemic of Loneliness in Senior Citizens

An elderly man walks towards dining room inside an Old Age Home in Jammu. [Representational Image]
An elderly man walks towards dining room inside an Old Age Home in Jammu. [Representational Image]Haseeb Ibn Hameed for Greater Kashmir

Social isolation and loneliness are important determinants of the health of older people and have a serious impact on their longevity, physical and mental health, and their quality of life.

Aging comes with certain physical consequences, such as decreased mobility, vision impairments, and deteriorating health issues that may make it difficult to leave the home.

Senior citizens who suffer vision loss and especially those who are hard of hearing feel embarrassed in social situations. As a result, they become increasingly isolated.

Consequently, their social circle starts to shrink. Contemporaries, friends, seniors of the family pass away. Children get married and have their “own family”. Majority leave their parents alone.

Even if they have friends and family living nearby, issues of mobility, illness, and transportation makes it difficult for them to move out. Loneliness has a similar physiological effect on the body as chronic stress. It worsens diabetes and heart diseases.

A study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry revealed that loneliness is associated with early Alzheimer’s disease.

Many senior citizens experience loneliness and depression either as a result of living alone or due to lack of close family ties and reduced contact with their culture of origin. With advancing age, senior citizens lose connection with their friends and family and find it difficult to initiate a new friendship.

Loneliness is  related to poor psychological adjustment, disillusionment  with family and social relationships. Given the ‘new-norm’ of neglecting the parents, older people tend to slip into depression as they feel worried and anxious about their deteriorating health and no one to care about them.

As a mark of gratitude we should never lose sight of the contribution of our  senior citizens in shaping our personality and career.

Shakeel, an auto rickshaw driver (name changed) is now bed ridden and isolated. He got his children educated from the best school in the valley and to pay their monthly tuition fee he used to skip lunch and ate a dry bread with onions. Never bought new clothes or shoes for himself and his wife, but for his children.

When his children got good jobs, they felt embarrassed that their father is a rickshaw driver. They did not allow him to drive a rickshaw making him financially dependent. After their marriage, both the sons migrated to different places.

His aging and frail wife died of loneliness and neglect. He was spotted by his son begging on the stairs of Maqdoom Sahab shrine. His son gave him some money and rebuked him for tarnishing their image. The son went on to the shrine for prayers.

To overcome their loneliness, aging parents just need a little bit of love, care and companionship. Morally, ethically and socially it is the responsibility of the offspring to take care of emotional, physical, and financial issues of their respective parents. We all, as individuals, need to introspect and remember the sacrifices our parents made for us when we were kids. We need to take care of our parents to help them age gracefully.

When at home, Aireeba converses with her grandmother most of the time. She also connects her to other relatives on the phone. Aireeba is of the opinion that she learns many lessons of life by spending time with her grandparents. In return, this care and love from grandchildren gives the grandparents a sense of belonging and importance.

They don’t feel ignored and disrespected. Aireeba got influenced by her grandmother’s interests and developed a plan to incorporate them into her everyday life. She also slept in her grandmother’s room and assisted her in her immediate needs.

She encouraged her grandmother for social service activities on a voluntary basis with the assumption of “Give back”. According to the National Institute on Aging, participating in meaningful community building activities can lower the risk of dementia and physical health problems in senior citizens. Aireeba completed her PhD and is now an Assistant Professor, for which she gives the credit to her grandmother who is her mentor.

The issues of loneliness and sense of worthlessness accelerates the aging process in the elderly. This needs to be addressed on family level and community level as well.

Dr. Zubair Saleem is a Senior Geriatric Consultant Dr. Showkat Rashid Wani is a Senior Coordinator, Directorate of Distance Education, University of Kashmir

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.

The facts, analysis, assumptions and perspective appearing in the article do not reflect the views of GK.

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