Ageing and Emotional Wellbeing: Bridging the Gap
Ageing: A global phenomenon
Ageing is a natural phenomenon and as we medically progress from cure to prevention of diseases, we will have to learn to adapt and deal with the issues of ageing. Ageing usually accompanies multitudes of adjustment requirements at a mental, physical and emotional level.
In a rapidly urbanizing India, the problems of the elderly are further escalated. Most adults over the age of 60 are at a higher risk of mental and neurological issues, sometimes irreversible and debilitating. The problems cause both perceived and real alienation from the family and society.
Where are we at?
We as a country have shifted into a youth-based demographic. The elderly not only face workplace issues with early retirements and loss of jobs due to increasing demands, but additional isolation hovers due to stereotypes and myths. They are losing their functional value, sense of belonging and social contribution as members of society.
Stark realities of the Elderly today
- Increasing institutionalization and limited or inappropriate social care
- They approach general physicians but hardly consider mental health services
- Multiple health conditions leading to dependency and loss of functionality and occupation
- Mental health issues being ignored or stereotyped as issues with ageing
Where are we headed?
The elderly population will continuously grow as fertility rates drop while life expectancy steadily increases. WHO indicates that there will be around 1.5 billion in the age range of 65 and above by the year 2050. As the elderly population rises, so will the issues they face. The mismanagement of this population group not only impacts the economy but society at large. Because as these people become the non-working population group, the burden of supporting them falls on the working population. Additionally, with the impact of the pandemic, this vulnerable group is going to be further burdened and ostracized.
What can we do?
WHO’s definition of health includes psychological well-being as a vital aspect of what constitutes living a healthy life. In the period of the pandemic, emotional well-being is highly impacted and correlated with psychological well-being. So, what can we do to help and promote psychological and emotional wellbeing for the elderly?
- With lockdown in place, we can dedicate a certain amount of time to connect with the elderly and promote conversations. E.g.: talking to them about their life experiences, discussing their favorite movies/music, sharing a joke, etc. The Indian elderly thoroughly enjoy ghazals and music from their time. Sit with them and listen to their favourite melodies, hum along if you can. This helps to boost and elevate their moods.
- Indulging in activities like yoga, board games, walk, etc. Go for a walk around the colony/safe allowed spaces or just do basic stretches in the house together. This can help build a sense of belonging.
- The elderly struggle with dependency and loss of purpose. We can help them in setting up a small viable business or part-time employment, for example: selling cooked meals, maintaining informal accounting records or being a caretaker for kids.
- Trying to be aware and identify changes in emotions, moods, and behaviors is vital. As much as physical health is monitored, mental health checks can help get them the aid they require, eliminating excessive dependency if and when issues escalate. The wait around when you notice a change in appetite or forgetfulness can lead to delayed diagnosis, be as proactive as you are when you spot physical issues in them.
- Sharing the responsibility of a pet or getting them a pet (if feasible) can also help deal with elevating emotions and provide good companionship.
- At the community level, organizing small camps, activities, support groups for the elderly will help aid in promoting social contact and belongingness. E.g.: planning a day out with grandparents or a support group of elderly dealing with the loss of job, issues with mental health, skills training, etc.
- At the government level, there is a need to improve and integrate institutionalization and community services to promote a better quality of life. E.g.: institutions could partner with local communities and spread awareness through campaigns, educating the masses about the psychological needs of the elderly and how we can all make a difference in their lives. Setting up spaces or events where the elderly can discuss their issues, spend time socializing with people their age or learn a skill can help boost their morale and sense of belongingness.
- Religious communities and NGOs can set up weekly events or travel trips specially designed for the elderly. Indian elderly are spiritually and religiously inclined and hence such events can help them build their social circle while helping them have something to look forward to every week.
- Working on policies and promoting workplace environments that help and aid with retirement. E.g.: providing a good pension scheme, alternate working options, and having a dedicated counsellor to help transition with retirement or related job loss issues.
Finally, though the road ahead is tough as we entangle in burdens of our life and responsibilities, there are psychological platforms and other agencies available that can help our elderly. Some platforms offer services through their mobile and web application that can help them check their emotional health status while keeping them motivated and positive. Reaching out and taking steps with professionals can help us promote a better quality of life for our elderly and inculcate a sense of responsibility for our future generations, as we lead by examples in life.