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Senior Citizens: A complete guide to beat loneliness and social isolation in elderly individual

If not addressed in time by either the individual himself or by near ones, the person needs to be treated by a clinical psychologist for experiencing loneliness

By Dr A K Sen Gupta

Loneliness is one of the dreaded feelings that a human being faces in life. It is a total feeling of seclusion, and perception that the person is unwanted in the 'social groups' and life at large. The individual then withdraws while being in the crowd or intends staying alone away from the groups. The reason of loneliness can be any stimulus or incident or a series of events that prompt the person to create a mental construct that the person is not desired any more. That’s the beginning of the feeling of loneliness. If not addressed in time by either the individual himself or by near ones, the person needs to be treated by a clinical psychologist.

Loneliness in Elderly:

Loneliness can occur at any age. This is quite prevalent among the youth because of variety of social reasons. However, the feeling of loneliness is highly prevalent in large sections of older population. This comes because of actual stimuli like, retirement from active professional life, children moving away to other places, loss of span of friendship zones and demise of close and near ones. All these stimuli have significant impact on the emotional and psychological mind space of an elderly person resulting in anxiety and stress. One of the obvious fallouts of this increasing amount of stress is the perception of being left out or feeling of loneliness.

We thus see a large number of elderly populations being totally withdrawn, sitting and spending time aimlessly and suffering from an intense feeling of loneliness and helplessness. And it has a serious impact both on their physical and mental health. Many cases of common physical ailments like increase in BP or Blood Sugar are as a result of this increased level of stress. Mental faculties also take a beating as people at this stage question the very purpose of their existence or life. Idle and purposeless life leads to mental inertia and rapid decline in cognitive faculties.

How to Combat Menace of Loneliness:

In psychological terms, loneliness is known as 'maladaptive social cognition'. This means people suffer from negative feelings about themselves and others and cannot adjust to the existing system. The only way, therefore, to come out of loneliness is to change the way we think about ourselves and perceive how others think about us. The problem here arises is that negative thoughts are recurrent and often overpower the positive aspects. Therefore, unless we have strong will power to change the scenario whereby the positive thoughts win over the negative ones, it is difficult to come out of this concept of maladaptation. This means we feel and think good about us; we should always opine that the world is full of people who like and respect us. This is a place where we have lots of respect. Once we develop this mental frame, we will have abundance of positive thoughts that will overtake the negative ones and will give rise to a sense of self-esteem. Once the self-esteem comes back, we are back to the normal.

This is also the spirit behind the treatment known as Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT).

7 Ways of Life to Combat Loneliness:

The above discussion implies that we need to create a mental framework where we feel we are respected and needed. The ways of life thus become extremely important to change ourselves from spirit of negation to one of positivity.

Some of the strategies in this journey could be:

Understand there is a problem within you and try to be deliberately away from negative thoughts the moment these come near you.

Try to create a series of positive thoughts, write them down and read them loudly them on a daily basis. Some of these thoughts could be: I am fine, I am cheerful, I must live happily, I must enjoy the sunshine, Grass is green and nice, Chirpings of the birds are sweet, I will move out every day, and so on.

Spend time with people whom you trust and who are charming and with positive ideas and thoughts. These may include your family members.

4. Go out and spend time with nature for at least 30 to 45 minutes a day.

5. Spend time fruitfully and productively for the causes you believe in and competencies you’re good at. This will keep you mentally engaged.

6. Have some time everyday for fun and enjoyment including reading books, seeing movies, sports, etc.

7. Meditate and devote some time every day in spiritual pursuit with philosophical attitude.

The above 7 ways are only suggestive and not prescriptive. All elders should choose and do what they like. The objective is to bring back life and enjoyment with every aspect of what we do. That will help the positive thoughts to crowd us forcing away negative feelings.

Once the negative feelings are overtaken, the spirit of life will automatically come back and change our mental construct. We will start liking everything and thus loneliness will go away. This will enable us to enjoy the journey of life and age with dignity.

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