Let me begin by saying that being a senior citizen is not easy, as aging is not only about physical changes to your body, but also about the mental changes that are involved as you age. I am here to share my experiences about one common but important aspect of growing old.
Before I begin, I would like to state that this is not intended to be medical advice or diagnosis and treatment, but a concerned senior speaking to his peers.
Living With Loneliness
Being lonely and being alone are two entirely different things. To be alone means that there is no one present besides you. But loneliness can mean that you may be with several people, you may be in a crowd, with friends, with members of your family and still feel all alone. Loneliness can be a very destructive and depressive feeling and lead to some terrible things.
But it is not all bad. We just need to be aware that these are nature’s ways of telling us to take guard for this phase of our life. This piece will try to take you through why we feel lonely and what we can do about it and prevent it from stopping us from leading our senior years in a better way.
Why do we feel lonely?
As long as we are working or managing homes and children, we are in an active social environment. We have colleagues, friends, children’s school, parents associations, business relationships, movies, parties etc to keep us actively engaged both physically and emotionally. When we retire, our social circle becomes smaller. Though we have more time on our hands and can spend more time on hobbies and easier lifestyles, slowly we find that meaningful interaction with friends, colleagues and even family become less and more infrequent.
Friends, relatives and family members either move to different places or pass away. The concept of joint families that created strong bonds within families has given way to nuclear families, as everyone nowadays wants their own space and what they consider freedom from family burdens and worries. Of course children are more than willing to take care of their parents, but their careers and their own commitments have to be dealt with. Distances act as a barrier to being physically and emotionally close.
As we grow older, we become less mobile due to physical changes in our body and our ability to travel and meet our friends and family is also hampered. Weaker eyes, loss of hearing and aching fingers make socialising seem more strained and less fun.
Loss of a spouse is also one of the major causes of trauma, leading to an irreversible feeling of sorrow. Time is a big healer but coping with this loss is pretty tough.
One of my friends recalls that as she became older, festivals became less festive and sweets were less often distributed. Greeting cards and gifts became less frequent and she was receiving more messages of illnesses and deaths.
A good number of senior citizens have illnesses that prevent them from leaving their homes or due to logistics issues, embarrassment or insecurity. Some of us suffer from incontinence or may need assistance like, dialysis, oxygen concentrators or nebulisers making life even more difficult.
The amount of time we get to spend with our family and friends becomes less and the quality of our interactions also suffers.
It’s tough as it involves doing different things with your body and mind.
Let’s take a few things that can actually help you get out of your cocoon.
One – Try meeting more people with similar interests.
Reading, music, art and craft, board games like chess, scrabble or carrom. They are not only interesting but also involve use of body as well as mind.
It takes the strong support of family members, friends and other loved ones to help us in these times, get your near and dear to spend more time with you.
Try to find company with younger people. They may be school or college students in your area, social and Health workers or even household help. You will be amazed at how this activates your mind and over a period of time some enriching friendships may even develop.
Take action to help yourself
These days communication is almost instant, when you need to talk to your family and friends. A smart phone and many apps like Facetime, Whats app, gmail and the like are at our fingertips. We should get our friends to help with technology to bring us closer to each other.
What the Rest of us can do
Senior or not, we can all help. It is not all that tough to help the lonely. All we need to do is to help assure them that help and support is always available.
Listen to them, make them feel connected and wanted. Check out some of the old activities that they liked and reignite their desire to try them again. If they cannot, help them find new, easier hobbies.
We can help them minimise their isolation by finding hidden or forgotten talent. Mahadevan was a good tabla player till he grew old and forgot his art. We discovered this at a music concert where his fingers were dancing to the beat. We could see subtle changes in his eyes and the nodding of his head. He had rediscovered his passion. Over time he became sociable enough to take part in a small music group and find his lost body and soul.
There are other ways too. Seniors can join volunteering programs to mentor school and college going girls and boys. You can read a book to a grandchild, sit with the visually impaired and help them to read.
I have heard youngsters say “ I feel like I am learning something new everyday when I talk to seniors, because I am being taught by the best,” she admits.
This kind of mutual hand holding does wonders for both. If any member of your family or your friends lives alone, talk to them and visit them often. it takes a bit of effort, but the if we can help lessen the damaging effects of loneliness, we can be a part of health living and better quality of life of seniors
Just like a baby takes its first steps and sees a new world, it just takes the first step for us to help seniors find a better world. We owe it to ourselves.
Thank you for your patience.
Reblog – originally published as a podcast at CovaiVani
by Mr V Krishnan, resident of Covai S3 Retirement Community