Social connection is key to ageing well

Social connection is so important, particularly as we get older. Having just celebrated his 60th birthday and becoming a grandfather, Tarun Sen Gupta is all about social connection. Anyone who knows Tarun knows he loves to be surrounded by people, telling stories of his remarkable life and adventures.
Tarun is Professor of Health Professional Education and Head of Townsville Clinical School at James Cook University. He has worked in rural medicine and rural medical education since 1987, educating thousands of today’s rural doctors and educators. Tarun is not only busy socially. He has a work schedule that a much younger person would be hard pressed to keep up with.  One of his many roles is as Board Director and Treasurer of Rural Doctors Foundation. 
Tarun Gupta and his wife Wendy have two children,  Toby and Eliza.  Eliza has recently given birth to twins so Tarun’s family is growing.   They live in Townsville and travel to Toowoomba regularly to visit his mother.

Seniors enrich society

Professor Sen Gupta said society could benefit greatly from connecting with seniors. “For GPs, looking after our older patients is such a great privilege. They all have stories to tell which we often discover while taking off a skin cancer or doing some other procedure,” he said.

“One old timer told me about opening the batting and bowling in Townsville in cricket and taking a three-day trip to Brisbane on the train to watch Bradman bat.” “Often when people are getting a bit of cognitive decline, remembering what happened today is frustrating because you can forget that. But talking about a holiday you had 20 years ago, or memories of growing up, can be really meaningful.”

Ageing can be rewarding

One benefit of ageing, for Professor Sen Gupta, is helping shape future generations.

“I’m seeing this very nice symmetry of people who I taught, who knew my kids when they were little, are now in turn having their own kids and careers,” he said. “Our son Toby, who is a JCU graduate doctor. Nearly all the doctors he’s working for are JCU graduates I taught. So the people who are teaching my son were in fact taught by me. “It’s the circle of life, really.”

Advice for seniors

Professor Sen Gupta said it was important to keep socially engaged. “Have a broad range of interests and keep yourself as busy physically, mentally and socially as you can,” he said. “Be interested in others and try to keep in touch with friends and family. “Even if you haven’t seen each other in ages, you connect, and you’ve got so much in common. “You’ll find everyone’s a bit greyer and older, but the stories are still the same, the personalities are still the same, the ratbags are still the ratbags.”

Using technology to connect

Professor Sen Gupta said while there was nothing like seeing people in person, connecting via screens could help reduce social isolation. “There’s a lot of technology we can use, so lots of older people now are on WhatsApp, Facebook and Facetime with family,” he said. “We’ve got the challenges we’ve had with COVID, not being able to see family or physically see new babies and so on.

“It’s a bit of a paradox that because we’ve been more physically isolated from each other, we’ve learned to use the technology better.”

Reaching out to seniors

Professor Sen Gupta said it was in the best interests of society to look out for senior citizens. “Often it’s easy for seniors to become isolated, and we need to consciously manage that,” he said.

“Everyone should reach out to and connect with our senior citizens. That might be family and friends but that might also be checking on a neighbour or saying hello from time to time. “For seniors in particular, connection is vital. People always do better when they’re connected to other people. It’s an important part of your physical, social and psychological health.”

Ageing is inevitable

Professor Tarun said ageing was simply part of life. “You feel the same as you’ve always done, you just notice everyone including the students are getting younger,” he said. “You go out for breakfast and think, ‘oh all these young people are serving us’ and it feels that’s most of the population.

“You realise you’ve been around for a while and you’re always banging on about the old days and you become the person people turn to.”