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Loneliness in old age not just confined to people without children

By Nina Steele 

For some people, having children is not just the conventional thing to do but it also gives them the peace of mind to know that they will not be on their own in old age. In close-knit families, older people are visited on a regular basis and are an active part of their children’s life. Sadly, I know and have come across a fair number of older people who even though they have children, do not see much of them and so spend most of their time on their own. According to Age UK, the national charity for older people, over a million people who are aged 65 or over complain of being lonely most of the time and half of all older people say that they spend more time watching the television than interacting with other human beings.

As shocking as this may sound, my experience of older people here in the UK is that this is the story for many of them, whether with or without children. It is obviously a cultural thing and here in the UK as in many Western countries, the emphasis is on the immediate family as opposed to the extended family. In other parts of the world such as Africa, the emphasis is more on the extended family and so older people generally have many relatives around to look after them and so loneliness in old age is not so much part of life. The concept of care homes for example is one that is alien to most people in those parts of the world not just because very few can afford them, but also because it is not part of their culture.

According to the campaign to end loneliness being lonely in old age can have a detrimental effect on the health of older people. The campaign points to a few studies that show the impact of loneliness on older people’s physical and mental health. In terms of the latter for example, 2 studies show that people who are lonely are more likely to suffer from dementia and depression. This is sadly for many people, the reality of being old in the West and having children it seems does not make much of a difference. 

It is cold comfort for the childless because ultimately no one wants to see old people live in such a way. However, the truth remains that whenever the subject of childlessness is mentioned, many people still bring up the issue of childless people running the risk of being lonely in old age, implying therefore that having children automatically spares one from such a fate, when as shown above, this fate can befall anyone regardless of whether they have children or not.

Comments

  1. Julez Fitzmond says

    Anybody can be lonely, and just because you have children doesn’t necessarily mean that they are going to care for you and spend a lot of time with you in your old age. In fact, they could well decide to go to the other side of the world! Being your own person is vital whether you have children or not, and you need to ensure that you have your own hobbies and interests so that you’re not just relying on one or even a couple of people as your social circle.

    • Hi Julez, I totally agree with your point that every one needs to prepare themselves by creating their own ways of spending time, as opposed to relying on their children who as you rightly put it, could be living in a different part of the world. I have come across a fair number of people for whom the reality is just as you describe. The other thing that incidentally got me thinking today is ending up in a care home. This to me has to be one of the most depressing ways of ending one’s life. I was driving past one today and literally started saying to myself loudly, I hope that I never end up in a place like this. I prefer to remain in my own home until I die. Again, the many older people in care homes do have children and yet they are moved in there to live off the rest of their lives. It makes me upset and so ultimately children or not, the fate that awaits you as an older person in this country is the same if not worse.

      • Julez Fitzmond says

        I have often thought about being in a care home, too, but after having experience of some relatives who have been there, I now know that they’re not all that much of a bad things. There are completely wonderful places where you can be – not just care homes, but places with assisted living. I imagine the people who require full time care at the end of their lives are in the minority.

  2. Loneliness can be incredibly disheartening for a number of people, even if they do have children. It can happen when you’re surrounded by people just because you don’t feel as though you fit in with them, and there is absolutely no guarantee that you will get on well with any potential children by the time they are adults. Some parent/child relationships are tolerant at best. But if you feel lonely, seek help, because it only gets worse if you don’t face it as soon as you possibly can.

    • Julez Fitzmond says

      It makes me feel sad when I see friends who I grew up with now feeling lonely because their children have flown the nest and never bother to get in touch again. There is one person in particular, a man, who absolutely doted on and worshipped his daughter when she was growing up, and now for whatever reason she chooses not to be close to him. So there are no guarantees, of course.

  3. I agree. Having children doesn’t guarantee that you won’t be lonely. I think how loneliness impacts you depends very much on how you perceive it and if you fear it.

    I for one very much like my own company and to pursue my own interests. I hope that when I am a bit older, I stay active so I can still socialise as and when I want to and to enjoy my hobbies.

    • I’m actually like you in a way – I love being on my own for most of the time, and don’t actually know what I would do if I had a child who would demand attention for a large proportion of the day! It actually sounds like a nightmare, although I’m sure that if I was a parent it would become my instinct (so they say). Staying active is great, I’m hoping to start a couple of new exercise classes soon to help me with this.

  4. I agree that loneliness can strike anyone at any time. It’s difficult to know how to handle this but it certainly isn’t related just to those without children. I know people at work who have children and are lonely because they don’t live close enough to see them regularly.

    • Julez Fitzmond says

      This is true. I know that my mother’s parents never see their son, and he doesn’t even live all that far away, so if it weren’t for my mother going to visit them I am sure that they wouldn’t be lonely, too, and that is a shame because obviously they cared for my uncle for a large proportion of his life. But I suppose it is his choice not to be in touch, and everyone has the right to make their own choices in life.

      • Dawn Kells says

        Actually, my partner is the same, in that he lives quite close to his parents but yet would never think to actually go and see them. He probably sees his mother every few months, and his father even less than that – they’re lucky if they manage to meet at Christmas. And his brother is the same. So having children doesn’t guarantee anything, of course.

  5. I can see that we are all in agreement that loneliness in old age is more than just something that affects the childless. Yes I have come across older people with children who complain of not seeing much of them. people who automatically assume that if you do not have children you run the risk of being lonely in old age, obviously have not done their research. Funny enough the older people that I have come across who have complained about being lonely are generally the ones with children.

    • Dawn Kells says

      I think it might be because once you have children, you have this ideal image in your head about what your old age is going to be like – and then when it turns out not to be like that, they are disappointed. But this doesn’t mean that everyone will be that way, of course. Many, many people do have wonderful relationships with their children.

      • Julez Fitzmond says

        Yes most people will think about their old age being in their own homes with their family around them, but there are many times where this doesn’t happen for a number of reasons, not least that many people will move away anyway!

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