Build ties with loved ones before it's too late

An elderly couple sitting down.
An elderly couple sitting down. ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

We have much to learn about ageing well and dying well from Dr Neo Han Yee's experience as a geriatrician and palliative care physician ("How not to die alone"; last Wednesday).

As a psychiatrist who has seen a spectrum of patients - from people who develop mental illness in adulthood, sometimes in the context of chronic or catastrophic medical illness, to people growing old with chronic mental illness and those developing mental conditions in their advanced age - I echo his sentiments.

A strong social network is, more often than not, a good indicator of positive outcomes.

The point that Dr Neo makes, that "happiness during old age should never be taken for granted... individuals must also recognise their part in investing wisely - not in financial or material wealth, but in meaningful relationships with their loved ones", bears repeating.

However, the people who need to hear this message are the young and middle-aged adults, because relationships are a long-term investment that starts many years prior to the enjoyment of its returns.

Sadly, this group has been overlooked in the current effort to meet the needs of our aged population. Nevertheless, this group may also be missing the message as a result of it having other priorities considered more practical.

Dr Neo observes that it takes "a lifetime of relationship-building to be loved as an affectionate spouse, a nurturing parent or an endearing friend".

Likewise, it also takes years of misplaced priorities to destroy the network of relationships that one is naturally endowed with.

The process of ageing well and dying well starts from young adulthood by intentionally prioritising and valuing the nurturing of a network of relationships.

Young people need to understand this before they get consumed by the pursuit of personal ambition at the expense of the things that really matter.

It will be too late by the time they reach the stage of needing help to promote "social connectedness among our senior citizens".

Chan Lai Gwen (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 18, 2016, with the headline 'Build ties with loved ones before it's too late'. Print Edition | Subscribe