The Elderly and Loneliness Epidemic: A 2020 Update

Dear Friends for Life: 

The problem of loneliness among the elderly continues as a growing problem around the world. The COVID-19 pandemic contributes to the number of older adults who are socially isolated including both community-dwelling older adults and nursing home residents. Many countries have issued stay-at-home orders and banned visits for nursing home residents. Excluding the COVID-19 pandemic, the number of over-50s experiencing loneliness in Britain alone is set to reach two million by 2025/6. This compares to around 1.4 million in 2016/7 – a 49% increase in 10 years.  In Britain and the United States, roughly one in three people older than 65 live alone. In the United States, half of those older than 85 live alone. In Japan, the number of elderly people aged 65 or older accounts for 28.4 percent of the 126.4 million total population. This will reach a third by 2050. China, India, Singapore, South Korea and other countries are facing similar problems.

Loneliness was not a major concern in the past because families took care of ageing parents. Reflecting this problem of loneliness in other countries today, Japan has more than 6 million Japanese people who live alone and do not have family living nearby. This number is expected to increase to 7.6 million over the next 20 years.

Being aware of this problem, does society really care? One politician in Japan stated, “Old people are growing more and more selfish. Human beings have an obligation to die at a suitable time.” Another writer states, “The only hope is to throw our parents away.” In early history, Japanese abandoned their aged parents to starve on mountaintops. In modern history, euthanasia and physician-assisted suicides are replacing this procedure as acceptable.

Who do the unwanted elderly include? Those suffering from terminal-illness, Dementia, Cancer, or are at a certain level of physical deterioration. At what point does life become not worth living? And “Who” makes these “suitable time” decisions?

Granted there are medical problems involved, both physical and mental. The psychological ones probably cause the deepest pain for the elderly and their respective families. More shocking statistics reveal that a large number of elderly (in the millions) go as long as one or even two months without talking to anyone, especially in big cities like New York, Tokyo and London.

Again, does society care? Yes, I believe we do. A survey shows that 65% of people believe we should do more. What can we do? Here are a few new practical suggestions:

1. “Teach older people new technologies.” A family stays in touch through texting but may unintentionally exclude their older parents who can’t text with an iPhone. Most likely due to weakening eyesight.

2. “Teach elderly to use ZOOM.” This is free, ease to use and you can talk for hours, especially for those who live far away.  Another alternative is to set up Skype for them. 

3. “Reach out to them”. Whether your family or a neighbor visit them, offer them a ride to the grocery store, spend a day shopping. You might even include them in social activities. Use your imagination. Their are many things which could lessen their loneliness.

4.  “Communication.” Strengthen bonds between generations – young and old. Be interested in them. Make them feel important by sharing their many experiences. Retired people agree with phychologists that communication destroys loneliness.

Pope Francis also speaks on the duty of honoring our senior citizens, which he associates with the biblical commandment to honor one’s parents. On the contrary, he said, the Bible has a stern warning for those who neglect or mistreat their parents. This especially applies today when parents, “having become older and less useful, are marginalized to the point of abandonment.”

The Pope explained that “to honour” can be understood in our day “as the duty to have extreme respect and to take care of those who, because of their physical or social condition, could be left to die, or ‘made to die’. A society where the elderly are discarded carries within it the virus of death.”

To youth the Pope concludes, “Where the elderly are not honoured, there is no future for the young”.

In short, Pope Francis reminds us that in the Bible “old age is a blessing”, and that the elderly, too, have a place in God’s saving plan. One particular example is that grandparents are “the indispensable link in educating children and young people in the faith”. He insists that they should be not only objects of the Church’s care, but also “actors in a pastoral evangelizing ministry, privileged witnesses God’s faithful love”.

An article still worth reading:  Researchers Confront an Epidemic of Loneliness

          God Bless
          Jerry Novotny, OMI

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(The Difference is LIFE)  “When a man loves a woman, he has to become worthy of her. The higher her virtue, the more noble her character, the more devoted she is to truth, justice, goodness, the more a man has to aspire to be worthy of her. The history of civilization could actually be written in terms of the level of its women.”Venerable Archbishop Fulton J. Shee
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Websites by Fr. Jerry

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(English) LifeIssues.net

(English) Fighting for the Culture of Life – Fr. Jerry’s Blog

(Japanese) Japan-lifeissues.net

(Japanese) Human Rights: The Road to a Happy Life – Fr. Jerry’s Blog

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