The case of Suraj Kumar Joshi, 67, who was recently found living with the dead body of his mother in an upscale Noida locality, once again highlighted the plight of the elderly who suffer from what psychologists term as “urban loneliness”.
When police broke into Joshi’s house, they found the body of his 94-year-old mother who appeared to be dead for more than two days, and he himself was in a messy state, dehydrated and malnourished.
The neighbours, who noticed foul smell emanating from the house and called the cops, claimed that the mother-son duo used to keep to themselves.
There had practically no interaction with either the neighbours or relatives and friends as they rarely saw any visitors in their house.
A check on Joshi’s credentials is surprising as he is a qualified mechanical engineer and has reportedly even earned a gold medal from the University of Kurukshetra. He even worked for the Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Ltd in Mumbai.
Relatives claimed that Joshi had separated from his wife some 18 years ago and had been living with his mother since then.
“A clear case of depression due to loneliness,” says Dr Samir Parikh, director, mental health and behavioural sciences, Fortis Healthcare.
“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,” Dr Parikh adds.
To assess the magnitude of the problem of loneliness and the need for acceptance among the elderly, Dr Parikh did a survey of 500 persons above the age of 60 years over a month.
A significant 34% of those spoken to admitted to feeling a sense of loneliness and 26% felt the need for help to cope with their daily life. A good 25% had no idea as to who would take care of them if they were ill.
“Our modern-day society is such that it does not have time for those who are off the line. If you cut yourself from people, they ultimately won’t bother about you. And once your resources and skills are compromised, it’s impossible to come out,” said Dr Parikh.
Urban loneliness, especially among the elderly, is a common phenomenon these days. Experts say now is the time to think of a solution to deal with this problem; else it may engulf a large chunk of the population in the years to come.
It starts with 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 the knowledge on. Take their views or opinions that would bring self-esteem,” said Dr Madhu Suri, counselling psychologist, Asian Institute of Medical Sciences Clinic.
Then comes the role of the government, non-government organisations, police and most importantly the resident welfare associations.
“They must keep track of the older population, especially those living alone, in their respective locality. Once or twice a month, someone can check on them,” Dr Suri added.