Automatically translated from Basque, translation may contain errors. More information here. Elhuyarren itzultzaile automatikoaren logoa

“Loneliness is an epidemic of our society, not only of the elderly”

  • Pili Castro Blanco (Basauri, 1968) is a PhD in Psychology and Professor at the University of Deusto. It is also responsible for the elderly and aging area in Caritas Bizkaia. In 2016 he presented his doctoral thesis on the feeling of loneliness in the elderly, a topic we have talked about.
“Pribatutasuna irabazi dugu, baina komunitatearen zentzua galdu dugu”. / Argazkiak: Hodei Torres.

Define loneliness please. If possible.

uf. In our society, when we talk about “loneliness” and especially in relation to the elderly, we are immediately led by elderly people alone. We are often used to measuring loneliness based on the greater or lesser number of relationships, of a very objective thing that can be observed from the outside. But I, and many more, work on loneliness from another point of view: as a personal feeling. Because sometimes we're lonely and yet we feel good, and other times we feel lonely even if we have people around us. The feeling of loneliness not only has to do with my number of relationships, but also with my feeling towards my relationships.

It is not the most widespread approach in general.

No, among friends, we don't talk about it every day, but when you talk about your own loneliness, you usually talk about it. When I did the thesis, I wanted to evaluate and understand the loneliness of the elderly. When an older person talks about loneliness, what does he talk about? And of the things they told me, I drew three conclusions. On the one hand, to talk about widowhood, the death of friends, to live alone… That is, of objective solitude, of the loss of relations maintained. Others told me that feeling loneliness has not addressed who: “Now, even if I live alone, I’m OK, but if something happens I won’t have anyone to take care of me.” They also told me about the third type of solitude, and it seems very important, in the case of the elderly: feeling that people do not understand you, that you do not have the same values…

Did synthetic solitude call this?

So I called him remembering the radio: the old broadcasters had a kind of wheel to tune in; if it wasn't put in the right place, I couldn't listen to the radio, just noise. And noise was more annoying than silence. This is important, when we talk about the loneliness of older people, we often don't consider the quality of relationships, and we think it's enough to be looking at them (in case they fall), or to have support services, or to have other people by their side so they don't feel loneliness.

Is it possible to objectively measure loneliness? A psychologist may tell someone who feels alone: “Do you forgive, but don’t have objective reasons to say you’re alone?”

No, it's a feeling. Maybe even if you're in the same situation, you feel very happy and I'm very alone. You cannot objectify how many relationships a person needs. In psychology, when it comes to loneliness, a lot of work is done on the subject of expectations. For example, in the generation of very old people they have always seen that a younger generation took care of the oldest. And in their case they have also lived with the expectation that it would be like this. But today this is not true, because we live differently, because young generations have educated us to work outside the home… And they are disappointed.

Is loneliness widespread? As for the elderly, I have also seen the word “epidemic”.

I think it's an epidemic of our society, not just the elderly. Our lives often hinder deep relationships. We're all used to meeting with each other, talking -- but that doesn't mean by itself that we have relationships of trust. I would say that we are at risk of creating a public health problem.

Loneliness is associated with very diverse health problems.

For a long time, very serious studies have been conducted that relate loneliness to the weakening of the immune system. In the case of incurable cancers, other studies indicate that the feeling of loneliness may accelerate the evolution of the disease. And it can accelerate cognitive decline in older people. Among others.

What can we do?

I am very concerned about how we live in our society. A few years ago, in the community where we lived a lot longer, the relationships between neighbors were much closer, mutual aid was more natural. On the other hand, nothing could be done without everyone knowing it. We've gained privacy, but we've lost sense of community. Now, as the importance of the zero kilometre in agriculture is claimed, we must regain closeness in relations. And we should also adapt the production model. How is it possible that there is no time to relate to the mastery of the works? In the more developed countries there are the highest solitude indices: more impersonal life, large shopping centers and cities without trade... Let us take note of that and reserve how good the previous one was.

Loneliness in the society of success

“We tend to refuse to feel alone. We live in a successful society and we tend to hide problems. Especially mental health. You have to be beautiful, young and successful. It would be better to consider loneliness as pain, but instead we interpret it based on the variables success failure. And because we believe that loneliness is a failure, we deny it. It is hard for us to ask for help. One of the first things we should do is de-stigmatize, deblame solitude. Because stigma is doing tremendous damage. It is difficult to attract people to projects against loneliness.”


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