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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 8  |  Issue : 2  |  Page : 63-69

Loneliness in older people: Spiritual practices as an alternative pathway to action, a treatise from India

Consultant Geriatric Psychiatrist, Kolkata, India, International Psychogeriatric Association, Kolkata, India

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Debanjan Banerjee
Department of Psychiatry, Geriatric Psychiatry Unit, National Institute of Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bengaluru, Karnataka
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/jgmh.jgmh_37_21

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Loneliness is an abstract construct defined in multiple ways. It is a feeling of disconnectedness, emotional isolation, and subjective feeling of lacking social relationships. Research shows loneliness to be common in older people, which, in turn, is a potent risk factor for various physical and psychosocial health conditions. Chronic loneliness is a predisposing factor for suicide, worsens cognitive outcomes, and impairs quality of living. Conventionally, aging is associated with “loss of vitality” and the “desperate need to retain older abilities.” In contrast to these concepts, eastern views center around acceptance, “letting go” and aging with a greater sense of purpose. Traversing loneliness with self-esteem is viewed over a consistent resistance against loneliness. Self-acceptance, wisdom, and understanding the processes of emotional aging can foster hope and resilience which help navigate the inevitable loneliness that may arise in old age due to a multitude of factors. Spirituality has various intersections with mental well-being, however, it is often considered to be an esoteric concept. In this paper, we provide an Indian understanding of accepting and dealing with loneliness through the daily implementation of spiritual practices in life as well as mental health interventions. The four ashramas of Hinduism are discussed with special relevance to Vanaprastha Ashrama (forest-dweller), which signifies renunciation and acceptance associated with aging. The actionable areas with respect to spirituality and its philosophical underpinnings in mitigating loneliness in older people are also highlighted.

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