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One of the biggest challenges of ageing is loneliness. Melleah Strautins, a researcher, aptly puts it: ‘As we age our bodies begin to be judged as flawed, imperfect versions of what once was; rotting shells that need to be put aside where no one can see.’ Indeed, this is a pressing issue. After all, we will grow old.
Studies in the past decades indicate that as many as 40% of adults over 65 report being lonely at least sometimes. While approximately 5–15% of adults of this age report feeling lonely frequently, but that figure increases to about 50% of adults 80 years and older. Chronic feelings of loneliness are experienced by 15–30% of the general population.
In relation to this, my colleagues and I have decided to investigate the issue of loneliness in older people. In our research, 24 older adults in a care home were recruited. Using a non-experimental research design, participants completed questionnaires to measure their feelings of loneliness.
Findings revealed that blurring of vision was the most common physical experience. While in terms of common emotional experience, the feeling of irritability has been identified. No notable mental experiences has been revealed in our study.
Our findings support earlier studies that highlight the social isolation and loneliness experienced by older people. A wealth of research has revealed that older people exhibit conflicting feelings about their daily lives in a care home. While they refer to positive aspects as the good relationship between other older adults in the care homes, and the possibility of getting involved with activities of daily living.
They also describe a feeling of isolation and loneliness, especially when talking about their relatives. Living at care homes is deemed as a hiatus from a life lived so far.
For many older people, coming to these institutions makes their home, their family, and their friends to become just a story to be told – a life event which becomes alive only in their memories. Hence, with all the fragility and limitations inherent in the life cycle, they still need to find the strength to start a new life in their new homes, where they meet new friends, and simply live on their lives without their family.
The result of our study has underscored the fact that the environment that will receive this population needs to be prepared so that there is a humanised caring environment and also this place should have a programme in place to offer opportunities for health promotion for older people, and not just provide food and medicine.
Education and consultation should be done as soon as possible to remove the negative stigma of the institutional life of older people. Also, in order to minimise the maladjustment of older people, a new programme and interventions are needed.
Dennis Relojo-Howell is the managing director of Psychreg.