Studies have shown that some old or new forms of friendships or groups and their social connecting networks have a significant impact on mental well being of an elderly person as they them counter loneliness syndrome and become active again
Several studies in the past have concluded that healthy social relationship is a key to happiness in life. More a person remains connected with others, be it friends or colleague or members of a club, etc., increasingly confident the person becomes of the support system around. It is all the more important for an elderly person. Devoid of professional life and absence of active group of colleagues and professional friends, an elder is left alone in the family boundary. It finally then depends on extent of connectedness and quality of relationship among family members. And in today’s context this is often missing. Breakdown of extended family leaves the elderly couple oftentimes alone far away from their children. Limitations of physical mobility do not allow them to move freely and visit relatives in distant places which lead them to be frequently confined at home.
Dynamics of relationship between elderly couples
In this phase of life, we have often seen that healthy relationship between elderly couple improves the quality of life for both the individuals. In old age, this relationship is often found to cause re-energisation of elder couples. In our own group, we see elder couples like Chandrakant Rane and Surekha Rane or Anand Saxena and Rita Saxena or S Kumar and Sheela Kumar or Chetan Deshmukh and Bharti Deshmukh signing and enjoying together in musical programs. We also see highly appreciative couples complimenting and supplementing the talent of each other. For example, I give lots of respect to my better half Samatha for her dramatic or musical talent while she appreciates my leadership abilities.
There are several such examples. Gopal Patro and Lakshmi Patro are example of one such couple who both are talented musicians in their own right and have deep appreciation for each other. Similarly, we have another example of Manohar Gharat and Sandhya Gharat. Sandhya nods her head in admiration while Manohar sings while he is appreciative of his wife when she narrates her experience or tells a story in our Sab Ki Suno program. Similarly, we always see the couple Shyam Ahuja and Sandhya Ahuja sitting together in all our zoom meetings and supportive of the musical and other artistic performances of each other. So is the case with Ramani Iyer and Lakshmi Ramani. And the list goes on. What it implies here, is that happy relationship between husband and wife is at the core of happy aging at old age despite odds like failing health or declining cognitive abilities. All senior citizen clubs or associations including MRL always try to create a synergy between the husband and wife who are elderly through facilitating a home outside home.
Dealing with loneliness and anxiety
The problem starts when one of the spouses is no more. Loss of spouse and resultant vacuum created is difficult to fill and there starts the difficult phase of life. Loneliness, anxiety, depression set in and an individual develops tendency to go into a shell. It is at this point in time in life of an individual, the relationship becomes different than the original one of one between husband and wife. This void needs to be filled in by others like family members (children or others) or friends (old or new) or like minded people in a group (club or association like laughing / walking groups) or senior citizen associations like MRLF.
Studies have shown that these old or new forms of friendships or groups and their social connecting networks have a significant impact on mental well being of an elderly person. They help them to come out of loneliness syndrome and become active again. The mere warmth of relationships sometimes creates wonders. We have seen during our visit to old age homes how the warmth of our interaction or mere holding hands with a sense of empathy creates a bondage, though temporary, and facilitates them to come out of silence & loneliness zone.
Elders are important
All the above instances and studies prove beyond doubt that relationship is key to building a good life experience. All of us, therefore, have a responsibility to build and maintain relationship with all the people (more importantly elders) we know as it is the cordiality of connection that keeps us moving. It is an integral part of happy aging. All stakeholders have a role to play in this starting from family members to senior citizen associations. The younger generation should make it a part of their habit to spend some time with elders, not in a casual sense of the term but with a genuine intent to build a happy relationship. All able-bodied elders must make it a point to join clubs or groups to keep themselves going. It is the sustained and good relationship that only make this world a happy place to live. To live together is a grace.
Dr A K Sen Gupta is the Co-Founder and Chief Trustee of My Retired Life Foundation (MRLF). This article has been published in Free Press Journal (FPJ) on 10th December 2022, where he is a regular contributor. Dr Sen Gupta was the Director of S.P. Jain Institute of Management & Research, Mumbai, and Director & Mentor at SIES College of Management Studies, Navi Mumbai. He was a World Bank Consultant and instrumental in setting up the National Banking College in Ghana, Africa, and a Professor at the National Institute of Bank Management, Pune.