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Senior isolation during the festive season is a growing problem.
Many people find themselves alone over the holidays. This is even more so in the case of seniors. Sometimes, it's a matter of geography: people live far from their families and find themselves unable to travel at this time of year. Sometimes, it's a matter of choice or affordability. And, sometimes, some of us prefer to avoid the fuss and noise of large gatherings. But even if it's a matter of choice, loneliness does strike people who find themselves alone over Christmas. We are told, again and again (mostly via Hallmark cards!) that it is not a time to be alone; we should be among friends and family, loved ones and young people? But, many seniors and elders find themselves lonely right through the season of joy and happiness.
Historically, India was, and still is, one of the best places in the world to enjoy any sort of festival. The joint family system, neighbourhood communities, local clubs and groups have played a huge role in making the festive season a truly joyous time…and making elders feel an integral part of the celebrations was accepted as a family and community responsibility.
The baby boomers, who comprise a large chunk of the world’s population, are coming to realize that the probability of living on one’s own (as they age) is a very real possibility for many – especially those who don’t have any children or whose children live far away. It could be argued that living alone does not necessarily mean being socially isolated, but it is often a critical factor – as is the lack of engagement in social activities and family gatherings.
In the hyperactive India of today, older people are being relegated to the periphery of active life. The traditional family structure is changing: younger people find jobs in distant cities and different countries and move away - within India and abroad. More and more seniors find themselves living alone – for days, months and even years. And quite often, people who live alone are also lonely. This is true at any age but more so amongst seniors who live isolated lives. This, can and often does, impact senior health dangerously. So how can we prevent this from happening?
An article, published in The Journal of Primary Prevention, titled “A Review of Social Isolation” by Nicholas R., says in its introduction, “that social isolation has been demonstrated to lead to numerous detrimental health effects in older adults, including increased risk for all-cause mortality, dementia, increase risk for re-hospitalization, and an increased number of falls.”
Keeping in mind the proven risks and growing frequency of this issue (more so during celebrations and festivals such as Christmas) we should be asking ourselves: how can we encourage social interaction amongst elders and the society they live in? How can we make our elders feel less lonely and isolated at a time when the whole world is celebrating the season of joy and thanksgiving?
With no access to transportation, seniors are left socially isolated. Lack of a car, a driving license or a driver become major road blocks in their ability to move around and interact at social forums – be it the homes of friends and neighbours, shopping malls, social clubs, restaurants and cafes. Any option that helps our elders to be self-reliant in matters of transport will help them integrate socially and negate feelings of loneliness– specially during this festive season.
Elders who are given a sense of purpose, made to feel needed or put in a position to help others (helping with Christmas feasts or interacting with young people), feel much less isolated. Encouraging them to take up a hobby or activity that keeps them busy or motivated, will also prevent seniors from feelings of loneliness. There are any number of hobbies and interests that involve social interaction at this time of year – putting up a Christmas tree, enjoying movies with family and friends, joining in with choral groups – will all help to improve social and emotional health.
The inability to control such a vital bodily function does often get in the way of an elder going out and socializing. Eventually this could lead to being isolated. But if this issue is handled properly, through medications and other incontinence aids, then the senior has a much better chance of going out and keeping active socially.
In conclusion, we can all do our bit to make our elders feel needed and wanted during a time of year which is all about love and happiness and joy. Not only will we bring emotional and social benefits to people who really need it, we will also be gaining from this interaction with those who still have much to offer the community and the world at large.