How to tackle depression and loneliness at old age? Somdeb Mitra, of MHF Kolkata speaks on a holistic approach

The sun rises and sets every day, seasons come and seasons go, small saplings grow into trees and we grow from infants to adults and often before we realize, old age has arrived. The body and mind does not respond the way it used to, which suddenly brings about the realization – we have grown old and the heydays of life are gone. People retire from work, children move out and loneliness often leads to depressive mood.

However, attitude is a crucial determinant of whether such a low mood would stay for long. Retirement should always be from work and not from life. To mention a recent example from my clinical experience, a 64-year-old widow lives alone in Kolkata as her daughter stays in Bangalore, told me that her ladies club is setting up charitable hospital in a remote district of West Bengal. Another 68-year-old man started following his passion, i.e. teaching socially disadvantaged children from his locality post retirement from his government service.

While it is undeniable that the days of joint families are mostly a thing of past for many, the internet and new technology has opened new avenues and several things are just a click away. From ordering medicine to grocery to taxi, people do not need to go out of their homes. Often, elderly persons can enjoy the optimum distance with family members and thereby avoid unnecessary frictions while maximising happy moments. Grand-parents can regularly see their children and grand-children through video calls – which was beyond imagination of many 20 years ago.

The elderly often forms groups and chose to meet at convenient times and often have parties in their own way – even over an earthen cup of tea (bhander cha) in a park. Many a times, the elderly are happy to attend picnics and other cultural events where participation is restricted below the age of 60 years.

“Well you face problems throughout your life, don’t you? Now I have to face troubles due to my vision and gastric problems, but I am free from the anxieties faced by my next generations. My grandson is under the pressure of academics. My son is bothered about how he would meet his targets in office, my daughter-in-law remains perturbed with her job. I am done with all of that. Loneliness is an issue, but don’t you have to battle that throughout life” said a man of 76 years.

What I understand is, preparation and acceptance are two major factors for successful ageing. People who get prepared financially as well as maintain social ties and remain active are more likely to pass on their wisdom gained through ages. The ones who are aware of the challenges and accept the changes gracefully tend to extract the positive aspects from life. It is unquestionable that the younger generations need to support the elderly and hold their hands and stay connected. Yet, the elderly people can often surprise us with their resilience and elegance.