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Loneliness as a new disease

Written by Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie

Dr. Sylvester Ikhisemojie
Old age is one fraught with a lot of challenges in every society. Many people are plagued by chronic ailments such as obesity, hypertension and diabetes. Others suffer from other ailments like arthritis, dementia, tuberculosis and cancer. Many of such people are frequently brought from the village to stay with their younger relatives in the towns and cities where they are also able to assess better medical care.

In the western world, such people are taken to stay in hospices, homes for the elderly and sanatoriums. Here in Nigeria, they are taken in by their extended family so as to feel the warmth of close family relationships.
However, as the wheel of human progress finally turns decisively towards the African continent, there is an increase in the cases of elderly people who are abandoned to their fate. They are left alone in the villages or even now in the cities as their sons and daughters become too busy, too career-conscious and too ambitious to have any time for them. In some cases, an entire brood has emigrated abroad, leaving the elderly man or woman at the mercy of more distant relatives.

Their children abroad send money to them at home,but without a live-in helper, they are often at the mercy of unscrupulous people and, in some cases, neighbours. Increasingly, there are reports of occasional wrong-doing and even murder being perpetrated by usually unknown persons in such circumstances with grief for all the relatives ensuing.

While the spectre of loneliness is more common among people at an advanced age, it is by no means the only situation in which this occurs. Sometimes in the recent past, several reports have also emerged of relatively young women being found murdered in their homes by assailants who clearly knew they were living alone. In addition, people who live alone are more likely than not to suffer injuries unknown even to their next-door neighbours. A 70-year-old person who lives alone can sustain a fall in the bathroom, sustaining an injury to the head or the hip and might lie alone on the floor for hours or days, undetected until death comes calling. This is a situation that could have been avoided if they did not live alone. A helper within the home would at least have raised an alarm.

Another scenario is with respect to illness. An illness may develop suddenly, quite often during the night and the lonely inhabitant of that apartment is unable to call for help because they are too weak to do so. The consequences are obvious. This is more likely to happen in a detached house increasingly seen as a symbol of affluence among the new upwardly mobile people in many communities.

Two years ago, yours truly was privileged to help treat a man who lived alone and had been passing out large amounts of blood with his stool during the night. He did not even know he was bleeding as there was no power for him to even see properly. A fortuitous early morning visit by one of his children led from one thing to another and the front door was forced open only to reveal his semi-conscious form on the bare floor. He was nearly dead. He took 11 pints of blood and was rescued. In another circumstance, death would have been certain.

These incidents are not the only causes of anguish in many homes today.Rising cases of dementia, depressive illness and social withdrawal are also prevalent. Many victims are inhabitants of homes which have become relics of their once lively, boisterous nature that have given way to emptiness and depression. In many cities across the nation today, there are such homes. Many are condemned to house only one inhabitant, usually an elder, who is left alone largely because his or her troubles are now considered to be too much. But those ones are even fortunate; there are others who unable to live alone, have wandered away from home and become tramps leaving from hand to mouth and at the mercy of the elements not to mention the evil people who are on the prowl. The males often take solace in alcohol which in a perverse way increases their chances of sustaining serious injury.

Not all lonely people are ill, physically or mentally. Some are in quite good health and requiring only company. Their offspring are away working somewhere and are unavailable to provide this level of emotional support. Others are not able to provide that support because they lack the means to do so. At any rate, these people become lonely and even abandoned. The ones still strong enough to venture outdoors are unable to use public transportation because it is non-existent or they have no provision for the special needs of the elderly. They cannot take a walk in the neighbourhood because of the menace of commercial motorcycles and dangerous bus and taxi drivers. They cannot access the banks because their wheelchairs, for example, will not be let in. Motorised buggies or battery-powered wheelchairs cannot be used because there are no side-walks on many roads across the country.

As a result, these healthy seniors are condemned to the lonely life that is sure to bring them disease and further suffering. Also, a good proportion of them do not even have the means either on their own or through the effort of their relatives to procure these expensive tools that are seen as necessary equipment elsewhere.

But a start is needful. A few cities around the country have old people's homes. The inhabitants of those homes often get there because they have been rescued from some kind of situation or the other by a government agency. They are not usually taken there by family members as is more likely in a western country. As a result, their upkeep is almost fully dependent on government subventions, or donations from religious organisations and wealthy individuals. Because the income pattern is uncertain, it limits the number of such people a home can take in. A place like that ought to help lonely seniors integrate and socialise and should be encouraged, but the natural resistance even to their existence in traditional societies remains another challenge.

It is thus a matter of concern that there appears to be no effort being made by governments across the continent to develop this aspect of our social infrastructure as the twin challenges of increasing urbanisation and rapid economic progress take root in many parts of Africa.
In addition, the increasing globalisation of even the traditional African home-setting further threatens to isolate these people who arenow been pushed to the fringes of the society.


dear doctor, I have premature ejaculation. I was diagnosed with Peyronie's disease. Please, is there any drug for the treatment? 

There is very limited drug treatment for this problem. What you might experience is painful, unpleasant intercourse, rather than premature ejaculation, but you should see aurologist for a confirmation of this diagnosis. Also, you may also benefit from treatment with a sex therapist.


Dear doctor, I am an ardent reader of your column and I'd like to use this opportunity to thank you for the professional and insightful advice you have always given. May God enrich you in wisdom. I am a teacher and so I handle markers every day. Most times, while writing on the board, there is this odour the marker produces which I find disturbing and to an extent, choking. Hence, I take vitamin C tablets every day because I am afraid the odour might affect me in future. Please, what do you think? Also, I just finished reading your column on Down's Syndrome and therein, I understood that one of the causes of this disorder is directly linked to the mother's age. I totally agree with you because I have read something similar on the internet and therefore of the opinion that since the root cause of this problem is traced to the female gender, it might create an avenue for female victimisation and oppression in the families with children suffering from it. Hence sir, I wish to state that I would appreciate if you can do a follow-up on this article which will encourage everyone irrespective of their gender to support these mothers and assist them wherever the need arises. Their husbands should also be urged especially to show them love; never to treat them as outcasts, but have a strong conviction that every child is a priceless gift from God regardless of their condition. As such, such children should be loved and cared for. I'd be very grateful if my wishes are granted. Thanks so much and God bless.

Your comments are noted with thanks. Thank you also for your kind words and your prayers. With regards to the odourproduced by the markers you handle, I would suggest that you endeavour to wash your hands at the end of the day's work with a good liquid soap. The odour cannot cause you any long-term damage and the use of vitamin C is pointless.The association of Down's syndrome with increasing maternal age is just that; an association. It is not the cause of the condition and the care of the children who have it cannot be the mother's own alone. It is a multi-disciplinary kind of work involving the family, the school, the social worker and other disciplines of healthcare whose contribution is required.


Dear doctor, thanks for your works on health. I am just above 60 with hypertension but using my drugs daily and having chronic constipation. Even with strong laxatives, my stool is still hard to push out. Again, I have lost erection. What is wrong and what do you suggest? 

At your age, you may occasionally be unable to have an erection but that is not a problem because it will usually recover on its own. If it persists, then you must see your doctor. It is a good thing that you use your blood pressure medications regularly but you did not say whether this controls your blood pressure. As for the constipation that you suffer, I would urge you to avoid the routine use of laxatives and instead take more roughage in your diet in the form of fruits and vegetables. These will be safer for you and more useful.

Dear doctor, is melon/ melon soup good or harmful to the body in terms of cholesterol level? Would you recommend its consumption or abstinence? Thanks. 

I would recommend its consumption. Melon is not harmful to the body and its cholesterol content is not abnormally high, not even nearly as high as you might find in your fried plantain.

Dear doctor, I'm a 33-year-old male. Recently, I went to the toilet to defecate and I experienced pains in my anus. But I thought the pains will go. As I am writing this, the pain is becoming unbearable, my anus is protruding outside. Please, help me. What type of disease is this and what do I do about it? 

What you have suffered is known as a rectal prolapse. Sometimes, it is painful and sometimes, it is not. You should see your doctor for an initial assessment and possibly have a referral to a general surgeon for a detailed examination to determine the likely cause. It can be treated so you do not have to be afraid.

Dear doctor, please I need your opinion. I am 20 years old and I have this problem of farting ever since I was young. It usually starts when I wake up in the morning and lasts for up to two hours continuously. Although it doesn't smell, it makes a loud noise. And this happens no matter the type of food I eat before I sleep at night. I took so many herbs all to no avail. What do you think could be the cause because it is so embarrassing and I need a solution. 

The kind of farting which you have described is clearly abnormal. It is a situation that warrants specialist attention. You should thereforesee a general surgeon for examination and treatment. The duration of treatment may be considerable but it is important for you to start before the likely ending is known. Good luck.


Dear doctor, it is good that you have thrown some light on the benefits on harms of alcohol in your article in SUNDAY PUNCH of February 22. Can you please publish in quantitative terms, the amounts per period of each of alcoholic beverages that fall within safe and beneficial consumption? Regards. 

For wines, one glass per day taken with your lunch or dinner is sufficient. As for beer and stout, one to two bottles per day is sufficient for any person above 18 years of age.

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