May 22, 2024

We read in some articles in psychology journals that the main problem of people today is not really about money but more about the feeling of loneliness. It is an emotion that affects not only the penniless but also the wealthy. One feels lonely when physically alone or even in the presence of others. It is a yearning to be connected either to others or to a cause that fills your heart or being, a sense of belonging, not excluded or left out. From childhood to adulthood, a person had at one time or many times felt this sense of emptiness. We also read that loneliness and social isolation hinder good health, especially for senior citizens. They are very susceptible to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a weakened immune system, anxiety, depression, cognitive decline, Alzheimer’s disease, and death. There are so many articles written about loneliness, like the types, the effects, the signs, etc., but we are not about to dwell on them, because I do not have the expertise to discuss about the whys and the wherefores, except that I had experienced it and everyone knows this feeling.
Whereas, as in the past, it was left to the concern of the family to care for its own ageing father or mother or both, especially when they became agkabaw (forgetful) and could not support themselves, in whatever aspect of support they needed. It was “very Filipino” to find an extended family household in the home and it was a welcome sight. As a teenager, I experienced caring for my lelong (grandpa) Valentin when my mom Paula brought him to live in our house in Baguio because no one could care for him in Sto. Domingo, Ilocos Sur, and he was already agkabaw. The first task that my mother asked me to do was to bring my Lelong to town and buy him shoes with instruction to buy rubber not leather shoes, for better traction. I was still a young boy then but my mother knew that I was up to the task. So, I brought lelong to the market, bought him rubber shoes at the Parungao Shoes store after he tried several pairs. Then we slowly walked around Malcolm Square to make lelong feel and fit into the new pair of shoes. I treated him to a movie at the Plaza Theatre since there was still enough money to buy movie tickets. When we arrived home after the movie, my mother was mad at me because it was already late in the afternoon. But my lelong told her daughter that he enjoyed watching the Lone Ranger and the horse (Silver) reminded him of his horse in Sto. Domingo, which explanation drew a smile on my mother’s face. Since then, I was the constant companion of lelong as I would also assist him in his bath and changing of his clothes and putting on his new shoes, whenever we go to town. Now and then, when he had nothing to do in the house, I would see him seated at our porch and gazing at the mountains and trees until he would doze off. Lelong loved our mealtime conversations with the family complete at the table. Our relatives would visit him and we would have an instant reunion now and then. But lelong would often tell us about how he misses the house in the lowlands, his horse and his kalesa, and his friends, until we would tell him that they have already passed on. This constant yearning for the lowlands made my mom Paula decide to bring lelong back to the lowlands with some relatives of ours to live with him there. We would then more frequently visit lelong.
Perhaps the very Filipino tradition of the family caring for their own seniors has greatly faded in time. Most families now have both parents pursuing careers, house helps are becoming scarce because employment abroad is more attractive, children are addicted and glued to their gadgets, and such other reasons, thus not being ideal environment for the senior parents to live in. So, most senior parents remain in their own homes or rented apartments, and may be visited by family or friends who remember that they are still around. Or they will just avail of free movies and take advantage of senior discounts. But this happens only if they are pensioners, but even then, there is that nagging feeling of emptiness or of being worthless, as if their task on earth is done.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine reported that “more than one-third of adults aged 45 and older feel lonely and nearly one-fourth of adults aged 65 and older are socially isolated. Loneliness and social isolation are serious public health risks affecting a significant number of people in the United States and putting them at risk of dementia and other serious medical conditions.” We are not aware of any studies done in the Philippines although we are certain that the number of senior citizens that have experienced it has grown to such a level that government must consider addressing this concern. Such factors as living alone, loss of family or friends, hearing loss, “senior moments” and serious mental illness would lead to loneliness or social isolation. Now is the best time to address this concern.
Perhaps a civic center for senior citizens may be considered. The center may be the venue for social, health, physical, spiritual, and educational activities designed for the elders. A year-round program of activities may be planned and designed by the Office of the Senior Citizens Affairs and logistics can be carried on by the local government in partnership with non-profit organizations and business establishments in the city that may be invited for specific programs that may be planned.
Don’t you think so?