Close social ties can help older people cope better

The report (Strong social ties help middle-aged folk grow more resilient: Study; June 28) on the findings by the Centre for Ageing Research and Education (Care) brings to mind a Harvard study, which shows that, more than anything else, close relationships keep us happy and healthy over the course of our lives.

Both studies are in line with the Tsao Foundation's observations over 25 years of working with older persons in the community.

We found that people in middle age - defined in the Care study as between 50 and 59 - often have a challenging time because they are taking care of two generations, in addition to themselves.

Because more people are having children at a later age, their children could still be attending school or be young adults who have yet to be fully independent.

At the same time, they could also be looking after their parents and other older family members in poor health, or be facing the loss of family and friends. They also have to deal with the beginning signs of their own ageing - less robust health, or a career that is tailing off.

How they deal with these challenges comes down to personal resilience, and we have noticed that people who have better social ties tend to fare better than those who do not.

Having supportive family members and close friends who listen to and empathise with them boosts self-confidence and helps them to see their difficulties as being more manageable.

At our Hua Mei Counselling and Coaching service, on top of individual counselling sessions, we also provide coaching for people to enhance their skills at relationship-building, as well as family or group counselling sessions to help our clients resolve relationship conflicts. This service for psycho-emotional health goes hand in hand with the foundation's health and social care services, as healthy ageing extends beyond a medical-physiological dimension.

We also noticed that volunteering improves personal resilience, just as the Care study found. This could be because it presents opportunities for meaningful engagement with others. We run a programme where we provide training and supervision to volunteers to serve as para-counsellors to older folk who need continuing support.

There is an ever-increasing number of older people in Singapore. For all of us to age healthily, we need to invest time in our relationships. As service providers, we need to think of ways to help build and improve social connectedness.

Wang Jing (Ms)

Assistant Director Hua Mei Counselling and Coaching

Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing

Tsao Foundation

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 02, 2018, with the headline 'Close social ties can help older people cope better'. Print Edition | Subscribe