Loneliness is one of the severe complications of old age. While loneliness can happen at any age, there is a significant correlation between feeling of loneliness and onset of age. There are primarily two reasons for the same. One is physical as well as mental distancing between the individual and others including family members, office colleagues, friends, etc. The other is insecurity arising out of falling health and financial security. Loss of close relatives including of life partner and fear of death aggravate the problem.
Loneliness is primarily a state of mind where people feel alone, empty and unwanted. Despite the fact that there are several people around, they cannot and do not want to express themselves and their feelings. Thus, one of the major concerns remains that seniors are often in denial mode and do not accept that there is a loneliness syndrome they are suffering from. This creates a major crisis as untreated loneliness behaviour might ultimately result in serious clinical medical depression.
The problem has deepened in pandemic period as elderly people are forced to remain indoors because of their vulnerability.
Staying connected is the key:
The only way forward is that elderly people have to take care of their own destiny with determination and see that loneliness syndrome does not catch up with them. And the best option is to remain connected and that too strongly and emotionally with their known and dear ones. Some of the groups / communities important in this regard are:
1. Families: Undoubtedly family is the first link in gamut of connectivity. Even if elders are not staying with their children, they should keep in touch with the family members for at least an hour in a week. While physical meetings may not be possible because of distance and more so in pandemic, technology has made it simple in terms of virtual interactions. They can also join in celebratory family functions like birthdays, marriage anniversaries, marriages, etc. on virtual mode.
2. Old Friend Circle: Elderly people should try to reconnect with their early childhood friends, school / college mates. Virtual platforms like WhatsApp / Facebook, etc. have made it easier to connect and keep in touch with early day friends and revive memories of youth, all the activities, and so on. That will definitely enliven the sprits of elderly people, bring back youthful memories and help them being out of loneliness trap.
3. Extending Friendship Network: Other way could be to expand reach of friendship by creating new friends. One technique could be to join some walking groups (morning walkers) or laughing clubs or groups of like-minded people (music groups). This will serve two purpose: allow the elderly to engage in meaningful activities and also develop new friends with whom they can keep connected in other ways.
4. Joining Senior Citizen Groups: This is crucial. Several new generation senior groups have come up in different parts of the country and they have been doing a great job in terms of keeping elderly connected with each other through various programs / activities / workshops. Besides keeping networked, this is also allowing elderly to develop new passions / areas of interest and showcase their talent. For example, in our My Retired Life Foundation (MRFL), we started with one (1) musical program in a month with around 10 artist members. And today, we have three (3) musical programs in a month with more than 45 members showcasing their talent in different areas like songs, poems, musical instruments, etc. This is one of the great ways of keeping elderly people occupied.
5. Doing Volunteering: Spending some time with young children mentoring or teaching or spending some time in a slum setting to help needy people or being part of volunteer group of some big NGO like HelpAge India to serve the needy will be a great way to remain connected with the world with a purpose. Besides being in touch with people who need help and attention, this will also give seniors a satisfaction in helping the people who need it. This is a great way to cheer up the spirits.
6. Staying Connected with Nature: This is a unique way of being with the greater part of the Universe. Spending sometime in a garden or hearing sounds of chirping birds or observing birds in motion or feeding the birds or lying on the riverside or just walking on grass of a muddy road has its own feeling of connectivity with nature and this can have strong healing effect on turbulent minds. There are many cases where one sees many elderly people coming out of anxiety zone by connecting with nature.
7. Staying Connected With Self: During the day for some time, we also need to stay alone understanding self and being engaged in process of self-discovery. This brings the inner energy to manifest itself as kinetic energy driving our life. One may give it any name: mediation, staying with oneself or be spiritually congruent, among others. Idea is to remain alone to explore oneself and try to find the vision and purpose of one’s life. Remaining alone is not suffering from loneliness. While the former is a deliberate mental workout, latter is a feeling of isolation.
Loneliness is possibly one of the biggest curses of old age. The only way to come out is to devise one’s own internal strategy to find a path that will keep elderly out of this syndrome. As loneliness is a feeling of isolation, remaining connected is biggest antidote to the same. All elderly people need to explore their own ways to remain connected with any one or more of the possible areas discussed above so that they do not suffer from feeling of loneliness. Life is too short and we need to enjoy every moment of it!!
Dr A K Sen Gupta, Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 9821128103.