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Toll of Tragic News on Elderly Well-being

Even for those without direct personal connections to such events, the incessant exposure to tragic news can take a toll on their psyche
12:00 AM Apr 21, 2024 IST | DR. ZUBAIR SALEEM
toll of tragic news on elderly well being
Photo: Mubashir Khan/ GK
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In the aftermath of the recent tragedy in the Jhelum River, I noticed a significant change in my mother's demeanour. She seemed unusually quiet and withdrawn, and when I approached her to inquire, I discovered that she was in a state of anxiety. Concerningly, her blood pressure had spiked, reflecting the deep impact that distressing news can have on one's physical and emotional well-being.

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In today's interconnected world, where information is readily accessible through various media channels, seniors are often exposed to a constant stream of distressing events unfolding both locally and globally. From natural disasters like floods in Dubai to conflicts and wars in the Middle East, the breadth of tragic news can be overwhelming.

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What's more, many seniors in Kashmir have loved ones residing in these affected areas, amplifying their sense of worry and concern. However, even for those without direct personal connections to such events, the incessant exposure to tragic news can take a toll on their psyche.

It's essential to recognize the adverse effects that consuming tragic news can have on seniors' mental and emotional health.

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Research and studies consistently highlight the importance of consuming tragic news, war news, and calamity news in moderation, particularly for the elderly population. Here are some key findings:

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  1. Impact on Mental Health: Excessive exposure to distressing news events can have detrimental effects on mental health, including increased levels of anxiety, stress, and depression. A study published in the Journal of Aging and Health found that elderly individuals who frequently watched negative news stories experienced higher levels of psychological distress and lower levels of life satisfaction compared to those who limited their exposure.
  2. Physical Health: Chronic stress resulting from prolonged exposure to tragic news can contribute to various physical health problems, including cardiovascular issues, digestive disorders, and weakened immune function. Research published in the Journal of Gerontology suggests that older adults who are exposed to high levels of negative news may be at greater risk of developing health problems related to stress. This can also aggravate the underlying chronic diseases like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease.
  3. Cognitive Function: Studies have shown that excessive exposure to distressing news can impair cognitive function, particularly in older adults. Research published in the Journal of Applied Gerontology found that elderly individuals who consumed a high volume of negative news stories performed worse on cognitive tests measuring attention and memory compared to those who limited their exposure.
  4. Sleep Disturbances: Watching or reading tragic news before bedtime can disrupt sleep patterns and lead to insomnia, especially among the elderly. A study published in the Journal of Clinical Sleep Medicine found that older adults who frequently watched distressing news events reported poorer sleep quality and increased sleep disturbances compared to those who avoided such content before bedtime.
  5. Quality of Life: Excessive exposure to tragic news can negatively impact overall quality of life and well-being among the elderly. Research published in the Journal of Aging Studies suggests that older adults who limit their consumption of negative news stories report higher levels of life satisfaction, social engagement, and emotional well-being.
  6. Social Isolation: A study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships found that elderly individuals who are exposed to high levels of negative news may be more likely to experience feelings of social isolation and loneliness. Excessive consumption of distressing news can lead to a heightened sense of vulnerability and withdrawal from social interactions.
  7. Fear and Anxiety: Excessive exposure to tragic news can contribute to heightened levels of fear and anxiety among the elderly. A study published in the Journal of Gerontological Nursing found that older adults who frequently watched negative news stories reported greater levels of fear regarding their personal safety and security.

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Based on the aforementioned research, it is crucial to adopt coping strategies to mitigate the impact of consuming tragic news on seniors, safeguarding their mental and physical well-being.

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The Strategies are:

  1. Limit Exposure: Encourage the elderly to limit their exposure to distressing news by setting boundaries on media consumption. This can include reducing the amount of time spent watching or reading news stories and avoiding continuous exposure to traumatic events.
  2. Provide Context: Help elderly individuals understand the context of news events by providing additional information and perspective. This can involve discussing the factors contributing to the tragedy, highlighting positive aspects of resilience and recovery, and emphasizing the role of community support.
  3. Encourage Social Support: For the seniors who are living alone, they should opt for social connections and support networks to mitigate feelings of isolation and distress. Encourage participation in group activities, community events, and support groups where individuals can share their thoughts and feelings in a supportive environment.
  4. Promote Physical Activity: Encourage regular physical activity as a means of reducing stress and improving overall well-being. Engaging in activities such as walking, gardening can help elderly individuals manage anxiety and promote relaxation.
  5. Engage in Meaningful Activities: Encourage participation in meaningful and enjoyable activities that provide a sense of purpose and fulfillment. This can include hobbies, volunteering, spending time with loved ones, and engaging in creative pursuits.
  6. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Meditation helps elderly individuals manage stress and anxiety. These practices can promote emotional resilience and enhance coping skills.
  7. Media Literacy and Education: Studies have shown that media literacy programs tailored to the elderly population can help individuals develop critical thinking skills and discernment when consuming news media. Research published in the Journal of Communication highlights the importance of providing older adults with education and resources to navigate the complexities of modern news consumption. Educate elderly individuals about media literacy, including how to critically evaluate news sources, identify misinformation or sensationalism, and recognize bias in reporting. Provide guidance on accessing reliable and balanced news sources to help them make informed decisions about what information to consume.
  8. Connecting with loved ones: Frequently communicating with loved ones who reside in areas affected by natural or man-made disasters and seeking reassurance about their well-being is a positive and supportive practice.
  9. Seek Professional Support: Encourage elderly individuals who are struggling with the emotional impact of tragic news to seek support from mental health professionals or counselors. Therapy sessions can provide a safe space to process emotions, learn coping strategies, and develop resilience.
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