One of my clients is a former WW2 soldier, now 90 years old. He talks about the Normandy landings in France during the Second World War and can still hear the explosions and feel the fear of that day, 70 years ago. However, the battle that he faces now is not post-traumatic stress but loneliness.
Loneliness is not the same as being alone. Most of us will choose to be alone, at times. But loneliness is being alone not by choice but by circumstance and that feeling of isolation can be devastating.
Older people, who may have suffered a bereavement are more vulnerable to feeling isolated, particularly for the first months or even years after the event – and their loss can have an adverse effect on both mental and physical health.
The Role of Technology
The good news is that modern technology can help to alleviate isolation. Going online may not be the same as talking to someone in person but it can open channels of communication with new, and old, friends across the world.
Currently, in the UK, some 5.5 million people over the age of 60, do not possess digital skills and whilst there is no substitute for face-to-face contact, communicating over the internet has opened up a whole new world for millions of older people in the Middle East, Europe, America and on every continent. Such social interaction can alleviate loneliness and depression and keep the mind active and interested. Depression and loneliness unfortunately feed upon each other, often leading to a downward spiral of ill-health, increasing medical bills and pressure on any existing relationships – as others become reluctant to visit.
We already know that when people retire, they not only lose their jobs but they also lose their status and sometimes their identity. In addition to which, annual income is usually substantially reduced to a pension that is far less than the former salary.
So what can industry do to help? Well, you may say that a company has more to worry about with their current employees and don’t really have time for those who have retired. However, I contend that former employees can be of immense value to those who are at the start of their careers. So here are a few ways that companies could benefit from the ‘silver surfers’ of the present who retain the valuable experience of the recent past.
Retired professionals could mentor both newly-qualified specialists and aspiring entrepreneurs. I can never understand how years of professional experience is just thrown away just because one reaches 60, as if from one day to the next an individual has lost all value overnight, like a piece of fish from the supermarket, beyond its sell-by date!
Few activities bring such a sense of satisfaction and the feeling of being connected than to provide a useful service for others. When an organisation wants to support a cause, why not enlist the energies from former employees who have more time and energy to give? They may not be able to ride a bicycle for 200 miles, but they may be great at providing the necessary back-of-house administration.
There are plenty of employees who would be delighted to give up an hour during their lunch break, once a week, to give internet training to those who want to get their IT skills up to speed or even to start from scratch. And once the ‘grey brigade’ have mastered the basics, they can then start their own peer support groups.
Growing old is a fact whilst being lonely is a feeling. To help to feel included, retirees and pensioners need to start:
- Being pro-active and positive in engaging with others
- Volunteering for work in the community
- Feeling a sense of personal worth by mentoring younger business people
- Achieving a sense of purpose by setting new life goals
It’s time we all took getting older seriously because without proper preparation, it can be a real threat to a happy and healthy later life.
And one day, both you and I will also grow old, so let’s make the older generation become visible by having their voices heard more loudly.
- Loneliness can lead to isolation and depression
- Experienced retirees can benefit new employees
- You’re not past your ‘sell by date’ just because you’re 60+
Written by Carole Spiers and reprinted with the kind permission of Gulf News.
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