Think positive when it comes to ageing: Experts

The proportion of Singapore residents aged 65 and above crossed the 10 per cent mark for the first time last year, rising from 9.9 per cent in 2012 to 11 per cent in 2013.
The proportion of Singapore residents aged 65 and above crossed the 10 per cent mark for the first time last year, rising from 9.9 per cent in 2012 to 11 per cent in 2013.BT FILE FHOTO

Society must change mindset on seniors' ability to contribute, they say

Growing old should be something to look forward to, say politicians and experts on ageing, as they called for an uplift to the generally negative image of ageing.

Much of the push comes from the very top.

Last week in Parliament, Health Minister Gan Kim Yong stressed the importance of ageing well.

Reiterating the point at a public forum on Thursday evening, Mr Gan said: "Ageing is not necessarily a negative thing, and it is important for us to think about ageing positively."

Echoing Mr Gan's call, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said changing mindsets about how the elderly can contribute is the way to go if we want a "vibrant society".

"Indeed, the elderly have a wealth of experience and skills to share," she said.

"The elderly themselves must also have this positive mindset so that they can live their lives to the fullest," she told The Straits Times yesterday.

Ageing issues have become more of a concern, given Singapore's greying population.

The proportion of Singapore residents aged 65 and above crossed the 10 per cent mark for the first time last year, rising from 9.9 per cent in 2012 to 11 per cent in 2013.

Groups such as the Gerontological Society of Singapore are also organising conferences to look into ageing related issues.

The society, for instance, is organising a conference on active ageing that is happening next Thursday to look at how to promote the well-being of the elderly.

"At the age of 65, you're already seen as old," said Associate Professor Goh Lee Gan, who is president of the society. "But the fact is you still have 25 more years to go."

The onus, say experts, is on society to change the way it perceives and treats the elderly.

Ms Helen Lim, of social enterprise Silver Spring, feels a major problem is that society "tends to focus on youth".

"The moment potential employers hear you're past 55, they won't call back," she said.

Her company, which helps older workers find a way back into the workforce, currently has about 300 names in its database. They are mainly professionals, managers, executives or technicians in their 50s and 60s.

This number, Ms Lim said, is "growing fast".

"It's about having self-esteem and dignity. The degree of independence and autonomy is very important," she added.

And the benefits of ageing well are not just all in the head, but could create a much healthier society as well. "If you have a negative image of ageing, it will likely have an impact on your health status," said Dr Chan Mei Leng, an expert in ageing issues from Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

"Both your mental health and your personal health and well-being might be affected."

Perhaps most important is leading a healthy lifestyle in youth, as those who develop chronic ailments later on are unlikely to find old age easy going.

"For people who are sick, ageing is no fun," said Prof Goh. "It's not your chronological age that matters; it's how you take care of yourself."

linettel@sph.com.sg

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