This is a topic that may not seem relevant for today, as the current society is already proceeding to the state of thinking old people are a burden on the society. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The sincere and caring love that senior citizens can give to the younger generation has a strong lesson that everyone is capable of giving love and also everyone needs love. A senior citizen whose mental state is ignored harms the society per se more than the seniors.
The current society has seen senior citizens who have gone through the horrors of the holocaust and still sport a cheerfulness that can put to shame a youngster having a great childhood and still feeling empty inside. It has also seen ungrateful sons abandoning their mothers at the cemetery hoping she will die, so they can take possession of her real estate.
Simply put, a happy senior citizen, is proof of a healthy and resilient society.
How rampant is it?
I have seen more unhappy seniors than happy ones so I see no need to go into the statistics of it all. However, I have seen a marked difference in the happy citizens and those who were silently suffering. I am striving to bring out the difference between the two with the hope that this will help us help those who are suffering. It will also help us when we get there, considering God will keep us alive for some reason to reach that state.
What are the causes?
Financial lack: The needs of senior citizens may vary depending on the health condition, to include regular supply of medicines, health care which may include hospitalization and specialized treatments. When this becomes unaffordable, there is a mental stress that creeps in and makes matters worse.
Restricted Mobilitiy: Old age restricts mobility and the senior citizens see it as a curtailment of their freedom.
Denial: Old age is natural and the conditions that go with it should be accepted gracefully. Otherwise it will be a demotivating war on one’s self.
Abandonment by children: The major source of emotional reinforcement for senior citizens is their children. When the children refuse to take care of their parents because of their busy schedule, and try to compensate for it by arranging geriatric care, it does more harm than good.
Empty Nest Syndrome: When the kids move out, the house falls silent and the silence is deafening for the seniors.
Rejection / Ill treatment by kids-in-law: The typical saas-bahu roles get reversed when the saas becomes de-energized in old age.
Limited social interaction (no friends): Losing touch with classmates and peers puts them in a cave and they become loners.
Health related ailments: All health related ailments are not avoidable. But as they set in, a sense of depression comes along as well.
How to avoid them
Financial stability: The seniors will have to consolidate their financial position instead of giving it all away to the children as various uncertainties are imposed in old age. Depending on the children who may or may not be grateful for the sacrifices tha parents did, is not a wise thing to do, and has to be addressed before it is too late.
Healthcare: The seniors ought to have a good healthcare plan in place in terms of eating, sleeping and physical activity. A stable circadian rhythm brings in a certain discipline that can avoid multiple health issues.
Family bonds: Family bonds should be retained. The joint family system in India is one thing that keeps them mentally stable and undergirds a state of satisfaction.
Friends: School friends raise the spirits more than anything. Regular meetings with peers will do wonders to strengthen their mental health.
Spiritual: “I will carry you when your hairs are grey” says the Lord. These words are true, and to be able to believe in them, the foundation has to be laid in the time of youth.
How to manage and win over them
The affection showered by grandchildren can result in a huge win over depression in senior citizens. It is said that every interaction with a grandchild increases the lifespan of the grandparents by a few hours. The grandchildren fill an emotional void better than so many gifts or luxuries. A granddad once told his daughter “you bring the kids here often. that will take care of my BP and sugar levels”. It not only heals the grandparents, it does a great deal of good to the grandchildren as well, reducing their individual stress by a magnitude. A grandchild observed that the parents scolded their children less when the grandparents were around! Smart observation that!
Mental activity: Reading and mental activity in old age can do wonders. Joking and sharing old jokes (not old for them, they’re fresh every time they are told), better still – solving crosswords and mental puzzles will keep them in a positive frame of mind.
Physical activity: The challenges imposed by restricted mobility can be reduced to a large extent if the senior citizens have their regular walk. The walk not only keeps the limbs strong it also strengthens the whole body and keeps the mind in a better shape than otherwise. Add to it the sight of children in the park and their lives are even better!
Personal care: When the medicines are administered with an element of personal care (as opposed to an irritated healthcare worker who gives it with some disdain), there is an underlying message that is sent, that their lives are valued and worth. This not only gives them a boost in their overall physical and mental health but also positions them to positively contribute to the family in terms of positive reinforcements.
Peer groups: Friends relate to seniors at a level that no one else can. However stupid it may seem to the youngsters, they have that healing quotient which cannot be seen in other interactions. I have personally seen old friends meet after a personal tragedy of one of them and their spirits being lifted up beyond belief. When they parted, the smile was back, notwithstanding the personal loss and the trauma.
Belief in God, Spiritual Reinforcements: A strong belief in God in younger days, will go a long way in fortifying the person’s mental state. The 11th chapter of Ecclesiastes, showing starkly the disadvantages of old age as it may, also sends out a clear message of what to expect and brings in a sense of peaceful acceptance of that state. A major cause of stress for old people is that they remember the hurts that were caused to them and the traumas they went through in their young age, and they are haunted by them. A spirit of forgiveness bring in healing that not only makes them survivors but also winners in their mental state.
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