More than a third of the world’s adult population over the age of 45 are lonely. People who find themselves physically isolated or have small social networks are more likely to feel lonely.
Loneliness and social isolation are growing public-health concerns, especially to seniors. Studies have connected loneliness to a range of health issues that threaten well-being including a higher risk of heart attacks, strokes, depression, anxiety and early death.
With the fast-paced world we live in, loneliness has the most effect on the aged and studies have shown that chronic loneliness plays a major impact on older adults’ memory, physical well-being, mental health and life expectancy.
Resolving the problem of loneliness among seniors is not a simple solution of moving them in with their children or even getting them together with others. In fact, research has shown that seniors living with their children were more likely to feel a lack of companionship than those who didn’t.
Dr. Carla Perissinotto, associate chief of clinical programs in geriatrics at the University of California San Francisco says it all depends on the quality of the relationship and the importance to understand the person’s underlying cause of whether it’s the death of a spouse, medical problems that make it difficult to socialise or leave the home or unmet social expectations.
The responsibility for the care of the aged is gradually shifting to the state as families find that they are either financially incapable or lack the time and energy. Although the state may spend it does place a heavy burden on the national economy. More importantly, it can never buy them peace and contentment.
For the elderly, the most terrible feeling is being rejected, left out and abandoned, and the most painful realisation, of a growing void of loneliness. To consider that a comparatively remote relative would ever be taken care of by the rest of the family has become almost impossible to imagine. Physical ailments are much easier to cure or alleviate but the deep psychological traumas from which a considerable number of elderly members of modern societies are suffering, are far more difficult to treat.
Thy Lord has commanded, `Worship none but Him and show kindness to parents. If one of them or both of them attain old age with thee, never say unto them any word expressive of disgust nor reproach them, but (always) address them with excellent speech. And lower to them the wing of humility out of tenderness.’ And say, `My Lord, have mercy on them even as they nourished me (when I was) a little child.’ (17:24,25)
These verses are significant in that they establish without doubt that after the Unity of God, human beings should, through their attitude of love, affection and kindness, give priority over all other things to their parents who have reached old and difficult age. The verses also speak of situations when the behaviour of one or both of the parents becomes extremely trying and sometimes offensive.
Islam emphasises respect for all elders in society, children have a special responsibility towards their parents. Traditionally Muslims have accorded their elders a lofty status, and the decline in this practice we see in some Muslim communities is concomitant with the overall decline in adherence to Islamic principles.
Compassion and respect towards the elderly is an essential element of Islamic conduct. The Prophet of Islam stated clearly: “He is not one of us who does not show tenderness to the young and who does not show respect to the elder.” [Hadith from at-Tirmidhi]
Islam reminds the young of a basic truth of the human condition, through a narration of the Prophet in which he stated: “If a young man honours an elderly on account of his age, God appoints someone to honour him in his old age.” [Hadith from At-Tirmidhi]
Be reminded to that as we progress through the cycle of life, the manner in which we treat our elderly will surely be the example we set for our own children.
Caring for the elderly entails looking after their physical needs, however, remember to forge healthy, loving relationships with them too.