By: M.R. Lalu
Life becomes a catastrophe when you are pushed hard to seclusion in old age and a person begins to feel that he is no more a part of the world. Alienated by the surroundings for his inabilities to keep pace with the momentum of the world, he realizes he is isolated and his aspirations and demands keep fading as there are rarely any takers. Old age has become a ruthlessly unprincipled and unwanted tenure for many people, as little do they receive as help from the corners they once thought would stand in support when they cross the golden line of courage and enter the terrain of isolation in the old age. Gradually, the tendency of more and more people inching closer to old age attaches the most difficult situation of being alone. This hasn’t been the case almost a few decades ago. Insecurity and seclusion have been less as the families were overpopulated and well connected. But the present scenario brings an alarming increase in the population of senior citizens who are left behind in apartments and houses devoid of adequate assistance supplied. The reason almost everywhere in India is the same; a large number of the young generation is migrating to various parts of the world. And the elder members in the families, unable to cross the uncrossable distance into which their kids got migrated, get frequently caught in an endless cycle of depressive situations. In India, Kerala is the state where the condition is alarmingly intense and this demographic transition is forcing the old people to live their last ounce of life in seclusion and depression.
Has old age become a curse for most of those who find the time of their great relapse being treated as a serious liability by others? Loneliness and social isolation are sure to cause serious health hazards among the older adults. Societies all over the world are infected with a tendency to avoid the presence of the elderly and the reluctance to stretch a helping hand is mounting. A study reveals that more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older begin to feel lonely, and at the age of 65 and beyond people are perfectly socially isolated. Probably, at this stage, the number of people being socially isolated is more than those who begin to feel lonely at the age of 45. Loneliness is the feeling of being alone. This can be principally due to the lack of attention older people receive from the younger ones in the family or a migration of the younger generation that almost left the families a silent den for the older people. The stark reality is, with old age comes various problems and with diminishing resistance power of the body and mind, life becomes practically an uphill task, a struggle.
But there is an unbelievably exponential increase in the number of older people who depend on the world of technology. Most of whom having gained a relative expertise in the internet and social media would find relief from being faced by isolation. Though India is yet to make a greater leap in pacing with technology, developed countries are known to have a better situation in which the senior citizens get obviously captured in the world of Artificial Intelligence and their lives seem to be a better and smoother deal altogether. This may not be the case with many developing countries. Studies also reveal the fact that many seniors in affluent countries chose not to remain glued on to technology. With the rapid speed of changes in the tech-world, a large number of the older generation would be forced to survive alone and their hurdles to adopting new technologies would keep them ideally handicapped. Countries with advanced tech-assistance have already made a great leap in the process of facilitating the lone elderly population. For example, the UK has various institutions unsupported by the government rendering round the clock assistance to the needy. Telephone friendship services work every day with volunteers making friendly calls for a chat with the lone and helpless older people. There are provisions to give adequate counseling and advice on the issues of bereavement and the depression that frequently haunts the lonely. Reports representing the situation in the UK give alarming statistics. Out of the estimated 1.5 million lonely older people in the UK, about 500,000 go five days a week without seeing or speaking to anyone.
Social isolation is a grave reality. In 2021, the World Health Organization (WHO) said social isolation affects around one in four adults worldwide. Almost everywhere on the globe the situation is the same. With a shrinking population in every family, the older people often find nobody to take support from. This colossal population of the older people that undergoes the effect of bereavement of being isolated is totally disconnected from the society socially, emotionally and also economically. In many cases, even though they live with the rest of the family members, their activities remain curtailed to a limited space, mostly subjected to disrespect and deliberate distancing. This is mainly due to a transition from employment to retirement that reduces their work space and productivity, which further restricts their social outreach. But the ability to stay healthy at an older age comes with a reason to smile. This is an advantageous position to those who are with a reservoir of energy and desirable knowledge and skills. To survive in a demanding world with plenty of skills and energy gets the older population some reliable status. Yet there is a critical situation that pops up with globalization and global connectivity. The world, being systematically connected, often attracts the younger generation to literally migrate but unfortunately breaks the traditional family structure that leaves the elderly back home.
Ageing is emerging as a key policy issue for countries. Of the total population, Japan has about 30% older people. It is estimated that many countries will have a similar proportion of older people by 2050. This includes countries in Europe and North America, China, Thailand, Vietnam and Iran and many more names stretching the line longer. With almost all countries in the world gaining a better living atmosphere, life expectancy has become longer and the population of the older people keeps increasing, probably bringing a steady shift in the pattern of death to old age. This shift has probably made the condition of states like Kerala more vulnerable. Kerala’s micro family pattern and the consistent migration at an increasing rate and its improved life expectancy have changed the social situation of the state altogether. It has been reported that Kerala is expected to witness its older population crossing an alarming bar of 23% by 2036 forcing the state for more facilities being arranged for it. This has probably been the case that the state has not only been known for its high literacy rate but also for its increasing number of care homes for the aged. Mushrooming of old age homes in various names has been a reality and they have seriously been seen as a dictating factor in the state’s economy. Retired veterans and normal senior citizens explicitly decide to take shelter in such homes. In many cases, it is the children who choose old age homes for their parents. The idea behind such an act is to shamefacedly escape from being responsible for their care. How long and how many people would survive this situation of unsupported loneliness? Should we not strengthen our societies with more compassion and care, so that the elderly, with their treasure trove of experiences would remain a blessing?
(The author is a Freelance Journalist)