A survey has conclusively proved that loneliness among senior citizens is main cause of various ailments
If you want to keep the elders of the family healthy, keep them busy. A study has revealed that elders who are busy tend to be healthier than those who live in isolation. Being alone and living with a sense of emptiness is a danger for senior citizens.
The study, carried out by Meerut's Lala Lajpat Rai Medical College in both rural and urban areas, has shown that elders with no social life tend to be sick, which leads to stress and depression. The study was carried out by Dr. Darksha Sayeda under the guidance of Dr Seema Jain, professor at the Department of Community Medicine in the LLR Medical College, Meerut. The data was collected from the Urban Health and Training Centre, Surajkund, and adjoining areas in which 220 people above 60 years of age were interviewed. This includes 1962 families with 43.18 per cent males and 56.82 per cent females.
The survey found that stress, depression and mental illness were found in about 76.82 per cent of the elderly persons who lacked a social life, while the remaining 23.18 per cent were healthy. According to age stress, depression and diseases were found in elderly people above 85 years of age.
It was also seen in the research that elderly women were sicker than men. More than 56 per cent of women were suffering from all kinds of diseases. Most of the women had stress, depression, and amnesia. They had problems of weakness in the bones and pain in the joints. Most women were also found to be victims of diabetes. Out of 125 women interviewed for the study, 80.80 per cent were ill.
Among 111 elderly were gloomy vis-a-vis their life, their main reason for sadness was found to be the loss of spouse (25.23 per cent), poverty (15.32 per cent), bad behaviour of spouse or children (13.51 per cent), and 11.71 per cent elderly felt lonely for reasons other than these.
The study found that almost all who were sad because of loneliness were sick at the time of the survey, followed by 93.33 per cent who were morbid as they were ill-treated by their spouses or children.
“The present study was conducted to assess various aspects of ageing such as its effect on the morbidity profile, psychosocial impacts of ageing, and various geriatric welfare services provided by the government and the extent to which they were being utilised by the studied population,” Dr. Seema Jain said.
In this study, the maximum population of the elderlies belonged to the 60-74 years (74.54 per cent) age group, followed by the 75-84 years age group (22.73 per cent) while 2.73 per cent of the aged were 85 years and above. After interaction with these people, their mental and physical alertness were evaluated. Depression levels, lifestyle, causes of depression, and nutritional factors were checked during the survey.
“The survey is clear that if you want to keep the elderly people of your family healthy, give them company. Talk to them and listen to their views. Encourage them to have an active social life. Allow the elders to interact with their friends. Let them go to a neighbour's house or introduce them to social activities. This way, they will feel rejuvenated,” Dr. Seema Jain said.
Many people experience loneliness and depression in old age, either as a result of living alone or due to a lack of close family ties and reduced connections with their culture of origin, which results in an inability to actively participate in community activities. With advancing age, it is inevitable that people lose connection with their friendship networks and they find it more difficult to initiate new friends and to belong to new networks.
The problem begins after a person starts staying at home all the time after retirement. The person who lives in a nuclear family faces the dilemma quicker than the person who is in a joint family as he has no one to talk to. “The crux of the matter is that the person who is not tired after retirement and leads an active life is both mentally and physically fit, while a person, who is lonely, is likely to fall sick,” the study says.
Loneliness is a subjective, negative feeling related to the person’s own experience of deficient social relations. Senior citizens who have a social life, who like going to clubs, or join an NGO or have a part-time job are found to be fit. In the research, 60.91 per cent of the elderly fit people were those who were socially active. The study found that 76.82 per cent of the surveyed people were sick. The top five morbidities found in the sample were hypertension (57.73 per cent), osteoarthritis (45.91 per cent), chronic gastritis (45.45 per cent), obesity (44.54 per cent), and anemia (43.64 per cent).
All of the elderly aged 85 years and above were morbid, followed by 88 per cent of elderly falling in the 75-84 years age group. This increase in morbidity was found to be significantly associated with the increasing age of elderly people.
With the passage of time, the attitude towards life also changes. The study points out that elderly, when asked about their attitude towards life, most of them (50.45 per cent) said they were sad followed by 35.91 per cent who were happy. Prevalence of morbidity was maximum among the elderly having a sad (83.78 per cent) attitude. In comparison, those who had a happy-go-lucky attitude (68.35 per cent) were less morbid and the association was found to be statistically significant.
The despondency towards life has spread across all sections of society – be it rich or poor. The proportion of the sample elderly belonging to a high standard, medium standard, and low standard of living index was 70.45 per cent, 22.73 per cent, and 6.82 per cent respectively. In a startling revelation, the study found that morbidity was found to be maximum in the elderly population belonging to a high standard (77.42 per cent). The people who have money, live a luxurious life and can afford costly medical treatment, were found to be more depressed than a person who is poor and cannot afford treatment in a private nursing home.
“The reason could be that children of rich people have moved out and neglected their parents. In some cases, children put their parents in old age homes and wait for their death. Whereas among the poor, there is still peer bonding. If one falls sick, the family comes for help, which is lacking in rich families,” said Dr. Seema Jain.
The study found that 43.64 per cent of the elderly were usually in contact with their neighbours or friends, 23.18 per cent were partly social only with their relatives, while 33.18 per cent had no social contacts. Elders who were socially active were observed to be less ill (68.75 per cent), whereas those who were partly active or inactive were more ill (86.27 per cent and 80.82 per cent respectively) and this association of social interaction with morbidity was statistically significant.
(The author is Political Editor, The Pioneer, Lucknow.)