Most elders in cities suffer ‘urban loneliness’, found a survey by a city hospital a few years ago. The incident where a 90-year-old man was living with his wife’s dead body for days in a south Delhi locality reflects the trend.
“A clear case of depression due to loneliness,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director, Mental Health and Behavioural Sciences, Fortis Healthcare. In the absence of a strong support system at hand, most elders in cities are lonely and eventually go into depression.
To assess the magnitude of the problem and the need for acceptance among elderly, Dr Parikh surveyed 500 people above the age of 60 years.
A significant 34% of the respondents admitted to feeling lonely, 26% felt the need for help to cope with their daily life and a good 25% had no idea who would take care of them if they fell ill.
“If people in their 30s can feel lonely these days, despite so many distractions, imagine how a 60-year-old would feel. A lot of us are not even aware of who our neighbours are. You hardly speak to people you were close to 15 years ago,” said Dr Parikh.
“Our modern day society is such that it does not have time for those who are off the line. If you cut yourself off from people, they ultimately won’t bother about you. And once your resources and skills are compromised, it’s impossible to come out,” he said.
Experts say now is the time to think of a solution for the problem that is only getting bigger. Otherwise, we may lose a large chunk of population to it in years to come.
It starts with the family
“Get involved with the older people in the family. It could be as simple as asking how their day was. Build an emotional connect with them as the best form of fulfilment for the elderly is passing on the knowledge. Take their views or opinions that would bring self esteem,” says Dr Rajesh Sagar, professor, department of psychiatry at AIIMS, Delhi.
Then come the roles of the government, non-government organisations, police and, most importantly, Residents Welfare Associations. “They must keep track of the older population, especially those living alone, in their respective locality. Once or twice in a month someone can check on them,” he says.