Keep healthy, but live happily, too

The recent announcement by the Government that it is going on the offensive to tackle diabetes is a positive move ("MOH to wage war on diabetes"; April 14).

We see a lot of push for better diet and exercise, as well as awareness of the complications of the disease.

However, in the midst of our eagerness to battle this disease, we must also remember the human aspect of it.

Sometimes, overzealous doctors or healthcare professionals take disease control to a whole new level, and I recall the chiding my father received for not getting to the required sugar levels within the review period.

He was quite affected, and took his sugar control very seriously, but in the process, I could see his misery.

He was slowly wasting away, unable to enjoy his food, too fearful of eating, too old to exercise in the way he used to, and constantly worried about the next blood sugar result.

No doubt, those were earlier days, and things have hopefully improved. But when we see patients who suffer chronic illnesses that require lifestyle modification, we must remind ourselves that "lifestyle" is the key word.

Some of the elderly suffer from more than one ailment, and they often complain that the many pills they take each day are a meal in themselves.

The admonishments from doctors to get patients' diet sorted out need to be accompanied by a full consultation and follow-up with dieticians, education and, most importantly, encouragement to keep healthy.

That means not merely reminding patients to take pills, or avoid salt and sugar, but a full comprehensive plan tailored to each individual, as to how they can eat well, healthily and happily. This plan should include activities that cater to the intensity that patients can handle, and follow-ups to make sure it happens.

It is gratifying to see that the Government is taking steps towards the prevention of diseases, but this will mean increasing the bandwidth of our doctors.

The extremely crowded polyclinics and outpatient clinics have severe time constraints, and many elderly people do not speak English, or, for that matter, Mandarin.

So, to effectively reach out to them, healthcare professionals trying to educate them about diabetes and other illnesses need to speak their lingo.

Ultimately, any kind of health campaign is as successful as how well it can penetrate the community. And disease control must be done in a way that affords the sick a means to live their lives healthily, with dignity and happily.

Peter Loon Seng Chee