You can be in a room full of people, and still feel lonely. The same can be said of the elderly living in a house full of family members. When your adult children have little time for you, and your grandchildren prefer to spend time with their friends or their digital devices, you are left pretty much with yourself for company, more so if your spouse is no longer around. That is why an increasing number of seniors prefer to age in a retirement village/home than to age at home with their family. 

What goes on in her mind as she sits there alone?

This sense of loneliness can engulf the elderly person, and precipitate into bouts of depression. Over time, she is likely to develop thoughts of ending her life. After all, why prolong this life of misery where no one cares about your existence?

What are the signs and causes of depression in the elderly?

Some common signs:

  1. overwhelming feeling of sadness, anxiety and pessimism
  2. lack of interest in the world around her
  3. withdrawal from family and friends
  4. loss of appetite accompanied by weight loss
  5. inability to sleep well

Some common causes:

  1. poor health; chronic diseases e.g. diabetes, hypertension
  2. disability resulting in loss of mobility and independence
  3. anxiety resulting from financial insecurity
  4. family disharmony and/or neglect
  5. fear of dying, especially when many of their friends have passed on

The good news is that, unlike dementia, depression can be prevented and treated more effectively. Family members should not dismiss signs of depression in their elderly parents as part and parcel of ageing.

How can we prevent depression?

Studies have shown that those who remain employed longer or who volunteer to help with community service organizations enjoy better mental health. Being with others, talking to them and staying engaged go a long way towards warding off depression.

The choice is ours to make. No point wallowing in self-pity. If our family members are too busy to take us out or spend time at home with us, it’s up to us to look up our own friends and organize activities. We have to be pro-active. If we are house-bound, we can invite our friends over for coffee or a game of mahjong. There is always a solution if we care enough to seek it.

At SeniorsAloud community, we realised the need and importance for older people to be socially connected and active. So we have started seven activity groups to cater to the various interests of our members. Except for Seniors Keep-in-Touch which has certain criteria for joining, members may request to be added to any one or more of the groups. We hope with this initiative, we can support one another as we enter the third chapter of life’s journey.

If you (or your elderly parents) are experiencing social isolation and loneliness, here are some suggestions:

  1. Get familiar with the public transport system. Learn how to use apps to book a cab. Or arrange for someone to provide transport for you.
  2. Adopt a pet or take up gardening. Looking after a dog or a plant helps to reduce the sense of loneliness.
  3. Join social or religious groups that organize regular activities to promote fellowship among the members.
  4. Learn to use the internet (whatsapp, Zoom) for social networking and staying in touch with family and friends.
  5. Above all, have a sense of purpose. It could be learning something new, volunteering for community service, or embarking on a project. 

Oftentimes older people decline invitations to go out, not because they prefer to remain alone at home, but more so because they may have a health problem that makes it inconvenient for them to go out. For example, they may suffer from incontinence, failing memory or poor hearing, all of which can cause some awkwardness in a social setting. Soon they develop a reluctance to go out and socialize.

Blessed are couples that have each other in their old age. But there will come a time when one will go first before the other. When that day comes, loneliness will set in. Their children should be alert to this. They should ensure their surviving parent gets extra care and attention to prevent the onset of loneliness and social isolation.

Ultimately, as I have always stressed in all my talks and articles, let’s be responsible for ourselves, whether it is our health, finances or mental well-being. We cannot take for granted our children will look after us, or assume the government will provide for us. The former may be unable to do so, and the latter is always ‘short of funds’. But do start early to prepare for our old age. It takes time to lay a good foundation for our future retirement. This message goes out to our adult children and to the younger generations.


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