Existential loneliness in the elderly

Stud. drd. Nicoleta Luchian1,3, Prof. univ. dr. Letiția-Doina Duceac2,4

1Spitalul Municipal de Urgență Pașcani România, 2Universitatea Dunărea de Jos Galați, România, 3Asistent medical licențiat, 4Epidemiologie

Primit: 27.07.2022 • Acceptat pentru publicare: 15.09.2022


 “We who are strong ought to bear the weaknesses of the weak, not to seek our own pleasure, but each one of us should seek to please his neighbour, to what is good, to edification”. (Rom.15, 1-2).  “For it will be as when a man, about to go on a journey, called his slaves and entrusted his possessions to them. To one he gave five talents, to another – two, and to another – one, to each according to his ability; then he departed.” (Matthew 25:14-15).

So we receive according to our strength; no one is asked to do anything beyond his or her own power, but we are asked to do all we can. Medicine and theology train professionals to heal the body and soul of the suffering.

Discussions with nurses and social workers working in home, palliative, primary, hospital and pre-hospital care revealed a general lack of specific knowledge about the existential loneliness of older people. Encountering the existential loneliness of the elderly affected their own feelings, most often by not being prepared to listen to these problems, and by not knowing how to alleviate their suffering.

The primary role of professionals is to approach the patient holistically, correctly diagnosing physical, social, psychological or spiritual suffering, and then to try as far as possible to alleviate and heal the whole being. We are tempted to judge before we help, even when the suffering belongs to us, we judge God. It is necessary, to find out the will we need; to will less, or, to will more, as the case may be, from ourselves, to be closer to creation and the Creator.

“Believe, love and do not be afraid! Be a neighbour to one who needs your mercy. And above all, do not think that in this way you are supplanting God, but only happily reflecting him in the life of the other and in your own!”.

Man rejoices with another, suffers with another, rejoices and cries with another. Everyone’s life vibrates in communication with another. And yet, where else, if not in suffering, is the need for communion more acutely felt, at what moments does a human being feel more alone, more powerless, more despairing than in suffering?

Communicating with patients, with lonely people, with the elderly whose door can only be opened by a neighbour, is not optional but necessary, it is part of medical and missionary work. It requires skills that can be learned and used in practice and, last but not least, it requires experience and competence on the part of the professional. We communicate verbally and non-verbally, we communicate by word, by silence or by tears. The importance of communication is proven not only in the professional-patient or person in pain interaction, but also within the therapeutic team. The communication process is increasingly becoming a therapeutic process, a fundamental skill.

It is important, however, to provide health professionals and social workers with the tools and knowledge to develop these skills so that it is possible to observe and interpret the challenges, needs and wishes of older people. In order to achieve this goal, teamwork, continuing medical education of health care staff and, not least, effective communication between care teams and older people are of particular importance. Identifying the patient’s real situation and communicating with family members is also essential to avoid and overcome loneliness among these people.

Unaddressed social difficulties lead to amplification of pain and their absence or successful treatment will significantly alleviate pain, suffering and existential loneliness. Treatment takes many forms and involves different members of the care team and social workers. Interventions need to be individualised to address the specific needs of each person. Loneliness leads to depression and deterioration of physical health, often resulting in premature death.

May God give us the wisdom to seek out the lonely, to love even when we are tried, when afflictions or misfortunes come upon us, when we feel abandoned by God.

Keywords: loneliness, professionals, elderly, suffering, communication, God