Loneliness, the enemy

Loneliness is not just a state of mind—it is a state of being, with tremendous physical and emotional consequences.

It may not be classified as a medical condition. Yet, referring to “an epidemic of loneliness”, an article published in The New York Times last year stated, “Researchers have found mounting evidence linking loneliness to physical illness and functional and cognitive decline. As a predictor of early death, loneliness eclipses obesity.”

For silvers already shaken by an empty nest, retirement from work, disengagement from social life and, in many cases, bereavement from the death of a partner, loneliness is a very familiar reality. And this is truer than ever before in India. A recent study, titled Changing Needs & Rights of Older People in India, conducted by New Delhi-based Agewell Foundation of 15,000 silvers in 300 districts across the country, reveals that almost every second elderly person (47.49 per cent) suffers from loneliness. In fact, it’s worse in urban areas with about 64 per cent plagued by it, compared to about 40 per cent in rural areas. When this is coupled with neglect or sometimes abuse from younger family members, the situation becomes even more dire.

With psychological counselling still considered taboo in India and the absence of defined social or public health initiatives to tackle the problem, loneliness can become akin to a cancer taking control of our minds and bodies and spreading insidiously. Further, a sense of inertia sets into us over time, making us reluctant and disinclined to step out of our cocoons.

This is the greatest danger of all. We need to push ourselves daily, constantly, to get proactive, engaged and connected. This can work in two ways: external and internal. The external dimension could include going out for a daily walk, taking hobby classes, joining a senior citizens’ association or volunteering for community work, all ways to get healthier and expand one’s social network while using one’s skills for the greater good. The internal dimension is equally significant. Becoming digitally literate, reading more, writing, learning new skills in the kitchen and home, and exercising regularly can also contribute to our health and enhance personal growth, keeping depression at bay. And whatever else we do, we must always remain positive—in our mind, body and heart, with our thoughts and deeds. It truly works wonders!

Indeed, while isolation and alienation are more acute in the modern world, there are also more avenues than we could have ever imagined to plug into the larger ecosystem, a world of discovery and possibilities where there are no expiry dates to self-actualisation. The choice is in your hands—make the right one.

By Tina Ambani

Featured in Harmony — Celebrate Age Magazine
August 2017