The global statistics of the death caused by coronavirus tells that a large number of deceased population are older adults. This promotes the need for high restrictions to the elderly population to completely refrain from social interactions and remain at homes or individual spaces till the pandemic settles. Mental health of elderly people is a serious concern during the times of social distancing, since they generally are dependent on people around rather than being dependent on social media or telecommunication. They might feel lonely, abandoned, and depressed when asked to stay in isolation for a longer period of time. The subjective well-being of the elderly is also dependent on a lot of other factors- one of them being regular contact or friendly meetups with people of the same age group. A major part of their life satisfaction and happiness comes from frequent contact with them. Several articles and studies have been already done on the effects of social isolation of personal mental health and subjective well-being, though very few have focused specifically on the life of the elderly.
Elderly people spend a major part of their lives with people of their similar age, socializing and sharing their agonies and everyday stories. A sudden lockdown in the times of pandemic creates huge stress and anxiety, lacking a happy space they might have created, especially in urban areas. When there is a loss of relationships and communication in familial and occupational systems, they find comfort and joy in the social networks of their own age and this happens automatically. One reason why this comforts them is that they are able to share and care for each other when all of them pass through similar stages of physical, social or mental illnesses and agonies. Around parks and beaches, it is a frequent scene to witness circles of elderly people chatting or playing games in the evenings. During these times of pandemic and social isolation, where people are not even allowed to get out of their homes, older people are completely being isolated, not only in terms of physical isolation also that they lack all that made them alive once and all that gave them a motivation to live forward.
Living in this era where social networks are completely digitalized, friendships and relationships are made online; what is left behind unseen is the impact of these missing social networks during these times of social isolation. Different life stages are getting impacted differently by social isolation. The positive effect of social connectedness and its direct correlation with the positive mental health and well-being of the elderly is immense. At present most of the elderly people are residing with their children or caregivers. It’s obviously not the case that they are helpless or adequate help is not being given. Pain also arises from the scenario that they hold a concern that they might be a burden to their caregivers or children who are looking after their needs. When it was a time when they could gather with the social network of similarly aged people, they would not feel that. They mutually help and share their helplessness when they know that it’s completely empathized.
Now, lockdown norms have eased a bit after months of strict lockdown regulations. But the concern for the elderly population has not changed. They are still not allowed to get out of their homes or gather at places with others, considering the risk of disease spread and sudden death due to underlying comorbidities. In this scenario, it is the need of the hour to think of plans and strategies to improve the mental health of the elderly population rather than being helpless about the loneliness, isolation, and depression of a large part of our population. Most of the time, it’s unseen or disregarded that the elderly might also have their emotional needs and wants rather than simply attending to their basic needs.
There can be well-planned strategies to help bring up the emotional well-being of the elderly population through a lot of ways, including setting up online platforms to meet their already built social networks throughout their lifetime. The major issue that they might face is the only technical difficulty which can be assisted and made easy for them to access the networks and have regular conversations and meetups online. Children at home can spend more time with them listening and talking to them, which is what they are really in need of. Their interests and likes can be discovered, and activities can be planned that might excite them, rather than leaving them aside. There might be personality differences in how their mental well-being is affected. For example, an extrovert who had always been in regular meetups with friends and people of their age group all throughout their life, a sudden change in routines might seriously affect them, with serious consequences.
Now, when people are overcoming the fear of the pandemic, it is still necessary that the elderly population remain at home and stay safe regarding their physical health without being in contact with a lot of people outside. Thus it’s high time to recognize and act efficiently to enhance the mental health and well-being of the elderly with the utmost care and attention, in the same way, physical health needs are taken care of. Or else, we might witness an era of depression and anxiety throughout the world disregard of age or sex.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Renna Zehra is a Post graduate student at Indian Institute of Technology, Gandhinagar and Nand Lal Mishra is a Junior Research Fellow at International Institute for Population Sciences, Mumbai.