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Empty Nest Syndrome


Mrs. Aishah, widowed in her late adulthood, found herself a faithful company of loneliness without the companion of her husband and as to make things worse, when her children have moved out of the town for their studies, careers or even marriages, the loneliness was inevitable. Such situation is not uncommon among the senior citizens in the country, and the loneliness may lead to what has been commonly known as the Empty Nest Syndrome.

What is Empty Nest Syndrome?

  • Empty Nest Syndrome is a psychological response to the change or transition in life elicited in and affecting almost all members in a family, especially the elderly.
  • A mixed feeling of worry, sadness and emptiness with the absence of a spouse or children.

Who are the Elderly?

  • An individual with the age 60 and above according to the definition provided by the “World Assembly on Aging 1982” in Vienna.
  • However, according to the World Health Organization, the elderly are those with the age of 65 and above.

Why the Elderly?

  • They encounter changes in life purposes which they hold on tight earlier in their life such as a career, children to raise and ambitions to pursue.
  • They are now retired from their career which once given them a sense of accomplishment; their children have grown up and left; and their ambitions are either achieved or given up.
  • The Empty Nest Syndrome is nevertheless one big factor which leads to mental health problems and stress among the aged women.
  • The females are more vulnerable to the syndrome due to the stronger bond felt between the mother and children, with comparison to those between the father and children; and thus the stronger sense of loss and loneliness.

What are the Factors?

  • Children:

       i) Moved out to pursue their career

       ii) Further study

       iii) Married

  • Emotion:

       i) Feeling empty

       ii) Feeling not important (not needed by anyone)

       iii) Feeling neglected/a lack of attention

  • Other Factors:

      i) Death/loss of a spouse

      ii) A change in life style (retirement, etc.)

      iii) A lack of activities/hobby

      iv) Physical illness and the effect of treatment

What are the Symptoms?

  • Feeling pressured
  • Somatic disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Suicide attempts
  • Lack of interest in social activities
  • Problems on personal care

What are the Treatments?

  • The elderly experiencing the Empty Nest Syndrome should be assisted in a way to overcome the overwhelming sense of loneliness to return to a good quality life.
  • An active and healthy process of aging can only be achieved with the symptoms of loneliness well-handled.
  • When the family members play the most important role in assisting the effected elderly to overcome the syndrome, the society also plays its part.

1.  Psychosocial Treatment

Psychosocial services to support the senior citizens:

  1. The problem solving technique
  • To prepare oneself with mental, spiritual and physical strengths
  • To fully accept oneself
  • To reignite the spousal feeling of love and care
  • To be connected to the family – siblings and children (via telephone, Facebook, etc.)
  1. Discussion on ways to express and manage the emotions. For example, anger management.
  2. Stress management and coping skills.
  3. Psychoeducation.
  4. To overcome other social problems by referring to some related agencies.

2. Spiritual

  • To have faith in God and follow the good practice as stated in the religion.
  • To follow the spiritual practices and be close to Allah.
  • Prayers, zikir and remembering Allah.

3. Physical

  • The symptom of depression will be worsen with an inactive lifestyle.
  • Be physically active (exercise and jog) and get some adrenaline rush.
  • Carry out physical activities such as farming/gardening and cooking.

Supporting Agencies/ References

  1. This group should utilize the facility which provided by NGOS. They can participate providing volunteer work or expertise there.
  2. Pusat Anjung Interaksi Rekreasi Intervensi dan Sokongan (AIRIS), built by the Lembaga Pembangunan Penduduk & Keluarga Negara (LPPKN) is a center to readily provide counselling services, therapies and psychosocial supports to the elderly, their family and the community.
  3. Several programmes are held to educate the elderly with regards to the importance of a healthy lifestyle, to practice positive thinking, to optimize their free time in community activities, a good relationship with their neighbours and to worship.
Last Reviewed : 3 August 2017
Writer : Khadijah binti Minhat
Translator : Khadijah binti Minhat
Accreditor : Tn Hj Hairol Kamal bin Abd Rahman