As we have witnessed advancements in medical sciences over the past decade, the average life expectancy is also increasing. Considering such a rise, it becomes more important to throw some light on the issues and concerns of the geriatric population. The well-being of the older population is not restricted to the physical health and safety, but to a large extent also includes their mental health and psychological well-being.
Older adulthood in itself is a stage of life which brings with it a multitude of concerns which could be stemming from issues related to generativity and productivity, retirement, boredom, loneliness, lack of psychosocial support systems, etc. In fact, with the changing family structure and dynamics within the Indian culture, it is not uncommon to note a lack of the invaluable psychosocial support being available to the seniors at home, which was once provided by the close-knit family structure. As a consequence, there is a large section of the older population, especially in the urban sections of the society, without an adequate social support system, thereby increasing their susceptibility towards adverse implications for their psychological well-being. One of the most common of these issues is related to a feeling of loneliness, which is not always dependent on the actual social support available, but can also be manifested in the form of a sense of abandonment based on the perceptions of the elderly.
Awareness about Geriatric Mental Health
On the occasion of World Senior Citizens Day, I believe it is important to spread an awareness about the needs of the mental health and well-being of the geriatric population of our country. Building such an awareness is necessary in order to ensure accurate diagnosis and treatment of diseases affecting the aged, and to prevent diseases by focusing on lifestyle and regular medical examinations for this section of the population. Further, such an awareness is an essential step in order to strive towards improving the quality of life and satisfaction amongst the elderly given the rise in the rate of life expectancy. Often such people tend to be hesitant to seek help, especially regarding concerns related to their mental health, which could be attributed to the dependency and stigmatization associated with the same. Therefore, spreading an awareness about geriatric mental health can go a long way towards encouraging them to implement more adaptive coping mechanisms while helping them adopt a sound mental attitude toward aging itself.
Common Stressors for the Older Population
There can be multiple stressors which are typically observed in the lives of the elderly. These could include changes in lifestyle stemming from age-related deterioration, increased dependency on others, reduced mobility, and further changes in routine patterns. Further, there could be financial insecurities associated with such an age group, along with concerns related to retirement, savings, etc. Another common are of concern with this section of the population is an inter-generational conflict, which could be manifested especially in situations where they are involved in caregiving for grandchildren, including differences of opinions, seeking respect and obedience, and experiencing a sense of loss of control. In addition, such a later stage of life is typically associated with dealing with death of relatives, friends and other close people as well, along with a loss of sense of purpose, identity loss, and other existential crises. Finally, old age brings with it a deterioration of physical abilities, dealing with chronic illnesses, decreased productivity, and a loss of strength. A combination of such stressors would in turn increase their vulnerability to depression, anxiety, neurocognitive disorders and other mental illnesses.
Need of the Hour
While a significant progress has been made in the research of psychosocial interventions that may be helpful in geriatric population, there is still a strong need for public awareness and education campaigns, for both the elderly as well as their family members. There still exists a lack of focus and awareness on these issues in the rural populations. Therefore, the need of the hour is to promote public-private partnerships in order to spread awareness and create a sensitized towards the needs of this section of the population, wiping out the myths surrounding mental health issues.