The need to open the facility became clear to the day center’s administrator, Ia Zubashvili, when she saw depressed senior citizens in her settlement. “They wouldn’t leave their room, they just stared at their old photos and mourned their dead,” Zubashvili, who is also displaced from Tskhinvali, recalls.
This kind of isolation, combined with trauma, can affect mental health and lead to early death, especially for people who have a greater need for social interaction.
“When a previously sociable person is suddenly forced to live with just memories [of his or her previous life] and, at the same time, focuses on negative past experiences, a number of diseases develop, including dementia, stroke, and high blood pressure,” Konstantine Pozov, the day center psychologist, points out.
He believes that social engagement can help senior citizens overcome trauma and underscores that “A person needs to feel that he or she has a role in the community.”
He stresses that displaced senior citizens, who have already survived so many challenges, are particularly vulnerable and need specialized care from the government as well as attention from society.
Dali Qoniashvili, 76, a survivor of the 2008 war, stays quiet when heated debates break out at the center.
During the war, a cluster bomb hit her apartment building in Gori. Luckily she survived, but she soon developed anxiety and her health deteriorated to the point that eventually she had to quit her accounting job. Dali then moved in with her nephew because “living alone became unbearable.”
“It is hard for people like me to stay at home and do nothing. I have been active all my life and used to work three jobs at once. This center has reinvigorated my life. If for some reason I skip a few days, when I return, the women ask me where I’ve been and how I am doing. This is important to me and makes me happy.”
Gulnara Kekoshvili, 80, is a former marketeer from Tskhinvali who now lives mostly alone in government housing.
Formally bedridden, the day center has helped her find friends and socialize. Recently she returned to the center, just days after an operation. Arriving straight from the doctor, Gulnara quickly became the center of attention.
“I have fun here. I love people. What is there to do at home? Most of the time, I am alone,” she notes matter-of-factly. “People pay attention to me here; I feel that I matter and that means everything to me.”