NINE WAYS ELDERLY PEOPLE CAN OVERCOME LONELINESS

2018-02-24
THE PUNCH Newspaper- Tunde Ajaja


In their relatively rich neighbourhood, her beautiful mansion is the cynosure of all eyes, given its luxury trappings and the expanse of land it occupies. Apart from the main building, which is well finished, it has chalets, boys’ quarters, swimming pool, huts and other things of interest that could make living more exciting.

But as big as the house is, 75-year-old Mrs. Comfort (surname withheld), a widow, lives alone in the entire premises, and the only company she has are her driver and the home help, both of whom live in one of the chalets.

For the past seven years when she lost her husband, loneliness has been the only company she has had, and it is particularly challenging because all but one of her children live outside the country, while the one in the country lives in Port Harcourt, hundreds of kilometres away from her abode in Lagos.

On a typical day, the old woman told our correspondent during a friendly chat that she spends most of her time sleeping, watching television, a routine she’s now tired of, and is gradually aggravating her loneliness instead of eliminating it.

While one would assume that she could spend the rest of her time visiting her children one after the other, she said, “I can’t stay in the United States where most of them are; I can’t cope with the weather, and the one that lives here only comes once in a while and for some reasons, I would rather stay here alone.”

What Mrs. Comfort goes through is central to what many aged parents go through, and the root causes are always similar, and chief among them is when their children become adults or get married. It is even more so because the culture in this part of the world makes it somewhat a detestable act for married children to live with their parents.

Apart from the psychological and emotional distress that accompany loneliness, scientific studies have also shown that boredom could lead to a range of health problems, like depression, and in extreme cases, some take their own lives when they feel there is nothing to live for again.

Given that it is a phase most people can’t escape, experts speak on ways to handle boredom at old age;

Get people to live with you: No doubt, some people are wary of outsiders, especially anyone outside their immediate family, but in the situation under discussion, elderly people are advised to have good people around them. This does not imply bringing strangers into the house, but if there are BQs or chalets that could be put up for rent, they are often advised to do that, for the sake of having people around. A professor of psychology, Oni Fagboungbe, said boredom could be a serious problem for elderly people and could even facilitate their death, if not addressed. He said, “Life is life with others, and it’s impactful when you relay what you know to others. Boredom at old age is a serious problem and it is capable of hastening their death. If they find no attraction in this life, they might be in a hurry to go to the other side; it’s as serious as that. One solution is to get people to start living with them. If the accommodation is spacious enough or is designed to accommodate more people, you can bring people in. With that, they would have people to relate with and that would do a lot to reduce the boredom.”

Mix with people: With the way some elderly people isolate themselves from going to fun places, one would almost see such as a norm, but no. Elderly people have been advised to go out and mix with people, especially because loneliness or feeling abandoned has been found to escalate depression. Thus, going to the beach and seeing the way people entertain themselves could be a nice form of entertainment. Fagboungbe said, “They can also go to the beach and fun spots; nothing stops elderly people from going out to have fun and mix with people.”

Stay active: It is not uncommon to see elderly people who still go to the mall, farm, take a walk in the neighbourhood, even if slowly, or do certain things for themselves, and findings have shown that engaging in such activities helps, even if children and neighbours are wont to advise them to refrain from doing certain things, thinking it could wear them out. However, it has been found that being active helps them to deal with isolation, and it eliminates the feeling of feeling like burden to others. A consultant sociologist, Dr. Franca Attoh, said things like religious activities could help. She said, “They can go into religious activities, especially if they were unable to be involved the way they would have loved to. Now that they have the time, they can explore it. That would keep them busy.” She added that doing charity works could also be helpful. She said, “There is no way you go into charity and you would be lonely.”

Try something new: It might sound unattractive or like an unnecessary task at old age, but findings have shown that trying something new, like learning an instrument or learning a vocation like hair plaiting, would help to engage their minds and keep them busy. “The best thing is for them not to feel old from within, if they have the feeling that they are old, the effect would be more devastating, hence, they need to feel young,” Fagboungbe added. “In fact, when it comes to psychological aging, nobody can help them, except themselves.”

Try sports and games: This is another way people could stay engaged at that moment of their lives. There are games and sports that are friendly to their age, like playing golf or some indoor games. Attoh, stressed that this could help to keep them busy. She said, “Look at Wenger, for example. He would soon be 70, but by the time he retires, he can become a commentator or he could feature on radio and television programmes. The 21st century is wonderful, because there is an array of activities that people can engage in.”

Consider writing: According to Attoh, writing could also be an option. She said, “If the person is literate, some people prefer to write their memoirs when they are old; so, they go into writing. They can begin to recall events. It’s like writing their autobiography. There is no way anyone involved in that would be lonely. It’s engaging.”

Try institutional homes: Some tend to skip this point because they see it as ridiculous, especially with the stigma attached, but it might be an option. Fagboungbe said, “It’s as if our culture does not embrace it because it has very serious social stigma and people would make jest of you, but it helps because there are other old people there they tend to interact with.” Notably, there is scarcity of that in this clime, but elderly people who are fortunate to live close to one or if they travel to countries where they have and they are admitted, experts say it is something to consider. Attoh said, “The sad thing about our society is that the government does not even prepare for them. The ones available are those established by religious institutions and some non-governmental organisations. Some countries have old people’s home, equipped with computers and indoor games and it enables them to compare notes and reminisce.” She said this elongates their lives because there is a reason for living. “But when there is nothing to look forward to, that is when you find that death comes knocking very fast,” she added.

Plan ahead: Perhaps this is for people who are not yet at that age, so they won’t find themselves struggling to adapt when they get to that age. Attoh said, “The old age is a phase that people must prepare for, so, you don’t wait for old age to catch up with you; you prepare for it.

Stay around family members: This is not alien to people in this part of the world, as their children tend to invite them to live with them. It is worthy of note that children sometimes find it hard to live with some elderly people because they see their behaviour as awkward, but with constant learning, they and partners who tend to have difficulty living with old people, could make life better for such elderly people.

Meanwhile, Attoh stressed that helping elderly people to deal with loneliness is a three-pronged approach; the individual, family members and the society. Also, Fagboungbe advised that children could make things easier for them by paying them regular visits and meeting their needs as and when due, even if it requires sending them allowances at regular intervals.

 

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