The year of 2020 has been a morbid year, where we’ve been forced to embrace social isolation through a two-month government imposed lockdown against a global pandemic. Like many others, not being able to gather with friends or even leave the house triggered bouts of loneliness, something unfamiliar to me.
Those two months were a struggle. But now, the gradual reopening in Phase 2 has shown some glimmer of light as social gatherings are now allowed (though in groups no bigger than 5). However, for some of the elderly in Singapore, this social isolation has been the norm, and the imposed lockdown only further exacerbated their sense of loneliness.
In this year of social isolation, we have been exposed to feelings of loneliness that may have previously been unfamiliar to us. Yet, we managed to discover ways to bridge those gaps with technology.
But what about the elderly, whose loneliness has only been worsened in this period? Have you ever wondered why they seemingly spend most of their time alone?
I’ve always noticed the same few uncles or aunties sitting alone at the coffee shop near my house, staring into space at the void deck, or just drinking a never ending cup of kopi-o. I’ve always wondered: Why are they alone?
Sadly, this daily routine of social isolation is the reality for around 47,000 of the elderly in Singapore today. A study by Duke NUS in 2018 projected that 9 in 100 elderly would be living alone by 2030. But on our tiny island Singapore, how are there so many of them, alone?
There are many factors and circumstances that drive the elderly into leading this lonely and isolated life. Even so, the issue of elderly loneliness is something we need to address.
While some elderly may get to enjoy the company of their children and grandchildren throughout their twilight years, there are many who live their final days in solitude.
Some may have already lost most of their loved ones and friends, leaving them alone and helpless. Those who still have family may not have them by their side. Others may lack the courage to face the ever-changing world outside their doors.
Many of us got a taste of what that was like during the circuit breaker period. We had nowhere to go, mostly stayed at home and had less interactions with friends.
Having said that, that short experience is definitely incomparable to what they go through everyday, with or without the pandemic.
Apart from the lack of human interaction, seniors also face immense anxiety towards their finances as well as their inability to work.
Having to face all these stressful thoughts, yet not having an outlet to relieve their emotions, could often lead to elderly depression. This is often on top of the physical ailments they may be suffering. Seniors are going through much more than we can imagine.
Encounters of volunteer group Helping Joy, NTUC Health Care@home services have revealed the depressive thoughts of elderly as isolation swarms their lives. The concerns for our elderly’s mental health and overall well-being is not without reason.
What do they need most and what can you do?
It is reasonable that many of us may not see the issue of loneliness among elderly as a problem. We expect that their immediate family members and friends will be there for them, but reality and expectation often do not match.
Start small, start with your own neighbourhood. Something as small as greeting the elderly when you see them around the void decks or corridors can mean so much to them.
How about offering to carry their heavy groceries, or starting a simple conversation with them? You can befriend them and show your care for them. The warmth you give to them will brighten their whole day.
It may be difficult to start the first conversation, but believe me, your courage to take the first step will bring so much more to their lives. Be brave! Maybe, you may end up establishing a friendship you never thought you could with your senior friends.