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Finding Meaning in an Age of Loneliness

Updated: Jun 8, 2023

by Taniya Dutta


As ageing populations become the norm around the world, we need to seriously consider ways of combating the isolation and loneliness that results from the ways society treats ageing adults.


Ageing adults have a higher likelihood than any other demographic to experience feelings of social isolation and loneliness (Victor et al., 2022), with over 13% of adults aged 65 years and above experiencing profound loneliness. Furthermore, more than 8% of all older adults in Australia aged 65 years and above face social isolation. Simply living in an Aged Care facility can contribute to feelings of social isolation and loneliness (Victor et al., 2022). Paramitha is one such resident, who agreed to be interviewed and share her experiences. She is an 82-year-old Aboriginal woman living in an Aged Care facility in Sydney. The goal of the interview was to understand the experiences of adults in aged care and their views on how the problem of social isolation and loneliness in aged care can be solved.

Tell us a little about yourself, and your connection to the facility you live in.

“I worked as an accountant for 51 years, but I am retired now. I have four children—three sons and one daughter—who are both working. Ashburn House Aged Care facility provides me with the help I need to go about my daily life. I am diabetic, and the Aged Care facility helps me take my medication as required and eat healthily. It is excellent here. Although I stay alone most of the time, there are plenty of chances to go on trips and socialise with other residents. Most of my time I spend reading novels and educational articles or watching tv.”


How did you come to live there?

“I volunteered for it because I needed professionals to provide me with support. I could have remained at home, but because of my health conditions, being a resident in the Aged Care facility would contribute to improving my quality of life.”


Do you ever feel lonely at Ashburn House?

“The environment at the Aged Care facility can be socially isolating and one can feel lonely. However, ever since I was a child, I learned to always keep busy either reading or doing something. Since I came here, books have been my friend. I converse with them. Sometimes I laugh, other times I cry… Books are close friends to me. I think I do not feel socially isolated because I am reading almost all the time. Reading stories and keeping myself busy has cushioned me from feelings of social isolation. For most residents, social isolation is a genuine concern. Everyone is busy and the nurses and other support providers here only interact with us at designated times of the day. It’s simply the nature of their work. They have to attend to all the residents so they cannot always be there to give us company. I also feel socially isolated at times, but I don’t let it overwhelm me. I wish I had my grandchildren around to share stories and laugh with. However, since that is only possible when they visit, I read and find activities to keep my mind busy, which helps to avoid sinking into lonely thoughts.”


What do you think causes increased loneliness in aging adults?

“For me, the primary cause of feeling lonely is nostalgia. I think about when I was working as an accountant and how I would be with my husband and friends after work. Even during working hours, there would be people around to talk to and share life with. Now that I am in the aged care facility, that is all gone, and I am left to myself. It can be overwhelming. Another cause of loneliness is that most of the friends I grew up, went to school, and worked with, have passed on. It can make me feel like I am left alone in this world. Being diabetic also makes me feel lonely as I wonder whether I will ever return to perfect health and be able to live freely.”


Did you stay connected with your family during COVID-19?

“The situation was quite difficult during the pandemic, as I was constantly unsure about the safety of my family. It was one of the most difficult moments for me, and I was feeling very uneasy. To stay connected with them, I video called to tell them how I was doing at the Aged Care facility and also know how they were doing. This really helped my feelings of anxiety, as it helped reassure me they were safe.”


How have other people contributed support for dealing with the challenges of living in an aged care facility?

“There are many people who have made my life comfortable. Let me start with the nurses here. They make sure to give me the medications I need to take at the right time and monitor my progress. As a result of their work, my quality of life has greatly improved since I came here. I am very grateful to them. They also advise me on what I should eat to remain healthy. They are my family here and they have shown genuine concern for me. I also cannot leave out my children, who have always popped in to check on me whenever they get a chance to do so. It is so encouraging to see my family members coming to see me. These are the main people who have contributed to the things that are going well for me during my stay at this facility.”


Are there any ways, besides reading, you have employed to combat loneliness?

“I downloaded a mobile application that tracks my physical exercise to help keep fit. Another strategy is making sure I am always connected to family and friends, which helps ward off feelings of isolation and loneliness. Sometimes I am quite active on social media, which helps me stay connected online and share my stories with others. I would quite like to have a pet, but I think that it is going to take a lot of time and energy. So far, I am quite satisfied with the methods I have used to fight loneliness.”

Are there any special qualities you feel are important when dealing with feelings of loneliness?

“I would say my ability to understand that those feelings of isolation are not because people have chosen to stay away from me. I understand people are busy, and so long as I get the support I need to lead a high-quality life, I greatly appreciate everything they do. You cannot expect people to be around you all the time when there is so much to do. I worked for 51 years, and I know how demanding work can be, so I do not blame anyone for my loneliness. I also practice mindfulness and meditation, which give me the mental clarity to make sense of the situation and be at peace with myself. If anything, the experience has helped me understand how resilient I am.”

What is the most rewarding part of living in Ashburn House?

“Living in an Aged Care facility is very important for someone with a health condition like mine that requires expert management. My diabetes has been perfectly managed, and my quality of life has improved a great deal as a result of being a resident in the facility. The facility has also given me the time to practice mindfulness and meditation by availing lots of free time which I would not have if I were living at home.”

Do you have any ideas for programs that could alleviate loneliness for people in a similar situation to yourself?

“I would develop a program that allows older adults in residential care to go out and converse with others from other facilities facing the same conditions as theirs, so that they do not feel they are the only ones facing those problems. Sharing experiences with other people facing the same problems can be quite useful in coping with the challenges associated with various conditions. They could schedule such programs to take place at least once every two weeks to make older adults in residential care feel that they are part of a greater society and are not alone in their struggles.”

Are there any comments you would like to direct to our readers?

“It is important for people to understand that being in residential care is not easy. It can come with overwhelming feelings of loneliness and social isolation. However, people who find themselves in Aged Care facilities should find things they like to do. They may play musical instruments, read stories, or engage in online groups to help ward off feelings of loneliness. Facilities should also support us in activities that help get rid of feelings of social isolation and loneliness as such feelings can negatively affect their mental and physical wellbeing.”



References

Victor, C. R., Rippon, I., Barreto, M., Hammond, C., & Qualter, P. (2022). Older adults’ experiences of loneliness over the life course: an exploratory study using the BBC loneliness experiment. Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, 104740.

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