George Kurien (name changed) is touching 90, but he has nothing to complain materially. He lived a full life in his heyday and his sons and daughters are well-settled.
Even though he was diagnosed with a weak heart about six years ago, he kept himself busy with gardening and reading — till about a year ago. That was when his wife died suddenly.
Now he finds fault with everybody, is a recluse and has given up his hobbies. It is loneliness that has made him a different man and his family is trying hard to bring him around. He is alone when the family leaves for work. Solitude has made him bitter and touchy.
Mental health disorders such as depression and paranoia are quite common among the elderly now, says M. Chandrasekharan Nair, a city-based psychiatrist. So it is appropriate that the theme of World Mental Health Day (October 10) this year is ‘Mental health and older adults’. Mr. Nair says the elderly, after retirement, feel comforted when they become part of something meaningful. Isolation affects the quality of life. Little interaction with people, loneliness and insecurity make the elderly undergo mental agony. It is important that the elderly feel part of the happenings in family and society, says Biju Mathew, director and State head of HelpAge India. For many boredom becomes a major problem as contact with the outside world diminishes. Illnesses, weakening of motor skills and fear sometimes force the elderly to keep indoors.
It has been observed that recreational activities help lift their physical as well as mental state of mind, says Mr. Mathew. A tour or a picnic or a pilgrimage often manages to restore their self-confidence, he adds.
At present 50 per cent of India’s population is young. But 25 years from now, the demographic pattern could be a little different, especially in Kerala, says Dr. Nair. Though the number of old age homes in the district listed with HelpAge is about 49, there could be more, says Mr. Mathew.
The elderly would be able to voice their concerns only when there is an opportunity to share and discuss. Bottling up of emotions can sometimes lead them to take extreme steps. Suicide rate is the highest among the elderly, says Dr. Nair.
A place where the elderly and the young connect is Koottukudumbam, an initiative of Dr. P.K.S. Menon Memorial Charitable Trust and Samatha Charitable Trust, in the city. The home has a 24x7 elderly helpline: 9495254383.