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The smarter seniors

It is often said that poverty in childhood and loneliness in old age are curses on human beings. Maybe this statement was made during the years when the situation of elders living alone was a rare occurrence. In the olden days the joint family system existed in India. This beautiful social institution took care of elders, the orphaned children, destitutes and widows. But in today’s global village scenario, when the children are more often than not settled elsewhere in the globe, the elders are left alone. It may be due to the children’s inability to take them along with them or due to the desire of the elders themselves to stay alone in India.

The result is that a growing number of elders are managing their lives alone. A casual conversation with such seniors reveal fascinating real-life stories. Most of them are women, maybe because women outlive men in the prevalent demographic pattern in India.

One such living-alone senior woman said she is now happy to be able to give full attention to her basic needs related to food, health, sleep and rest, after decades of giving preference to the needs of the family members all the time at the expense of her physical, mental and emotional needs.

Another such woman, basically a spiritual person, had never found adequate time for her religious duties. But now she is immensely happy that during her sunset years she is able to spend more time in the company of god. Moreover, she has realised late in life that the proper way of thanking god and pleasing him is to help the less-privileged living around her. Ever since this realisation came, she is more into community service and derives peace of mind through it.

Another woman who retired from a hectic career of 30 years said that during her roller-coaster life of managing her children and her career, she never found the time to pursue her passions, such as writing, reading, painting and gardening. Now she is contented since she has plenty of time to spend on them.

A 74-year-old said he was not counting on his children to help even in emergencies since they live thousands of miles away. He is banking on the neighbours or concerned relatives for immediate help during such times. He said the availability of such help depends on the cordiality we maintain with relatives and neighbours. He has achieved this by maintaining regular contact with them and volunteering to help them whenever they needed his assistance.

A couple who are in a senior citizens’ home said they are happy to have such an arrangement as all their basic needs, such as food, medical facilities, shelter and security, are available on the campus. For the childless or those without relatives, even terminal illness and last rites are taken care of. Hence they have no fear about their last days. The belief that they will not die in loneliness as an orphan in an empty house or will not be murdered by some stranger, gives them mental peace. They are happy to feel the proximity of so many aged persons with common problems and needs and have developed friendship with like-minded inmates of the home. They enjoy companionship to the full and are thus saved from any depression caused by loneliness.

Another living-alone woman who is 66, manages her food requirements through catering. She is happy about this arrangement because she is totally free from kitchen management tasks after nearly four decades. The time thus saved is used to satisfy the needs of her creative mind, which were totally discarded during her productive age due to heavy family responsibilities. At present, she is into counselling cancer patients, painting and teaching music. She trains some neighbourhood children in the fine arts. The feeling that she is fulfilling her heart’s desires and spending time usefully gives her satisfaction. The word “boredom” is not in her dictionary anymore.

Another man, who is 83, will make anyone wonder how he had opted to live alone at his age in an apartment. He says it is no big deal because he has good neighbours and relatives who check on his well-being now and then. His food requirements are taken care of by a caterer and the household work by a maid. He says books, television, music records, smartphone and computer, and his passion for crossword puzzles, occupy him without boredom. In addition, he is a news addict and the 24x7 news channels engage him mainly. It is life without responsibilities after a few decades of hectic family and professional responsibilities, and he is now living without racing against time, no more a sleep or leisure-deprived person. He considers the prevailing peace in his life and the calm of mind as gifts of god.

The super-seniors (those above 80) struggle to manage their homes because of physical inability and failing memory. During their productive life their personal needs were totally taken care of by their wives and outside work by the husbands. Such seniors who have lost their life-partners are not frustrated over their present condition and make use of assisted-living facilities or engage home nurses. They use their leisure hours in various types of community activities despite health problems. Through membership in walkers’ clubs or humour clubs or senior associations they make newer friends and even undertake pleasure trips, and through them get assistance during emergencies.

Interaction with living-alone seniors reveals that today they are smarter in self-management skills and have risen above depression caused by the empty nest syndrome and geriatric and gerontology problems. They know how to empower themselves by renewing their driving licences, using laptops and smartphones. To drive away idleness some of them have taken up second careers or got involved in community welfare activities. They seem to enjoy their independence. They seem to live with the philosophy that “what cannot be cured has to be endured”.

That means they have understood the concepts and techniques of “active aging” or “healthy aging”, which is possible only through positive thinking. Such seniors are role models to the younger generation.

rameezarasheed@gmail.com

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Printable version | Jan 15, 2021 4:19:44 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-smarter-seniors/article25082175.ece

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