A life cycle that includes the “Fourth Age”

We often hear about the Third Age, but rarely do we hear about the “Fourth Age”.

Ageless Voice speaks to Choo Jin Kiat, executive director of voluntary welfare organisation in Singapore, O’Joy Care Services, about what it is and why it is important:

O'Joy's Health Oriented Ageing (HOA) programme.

What is the Fourth Age?

The Fourth Age is when people become dependent, either physically or mentally, on other people. Sometimes this age is called the old-old group (the Third Age focuses on the young-old where they are still healthy and active) and also includes the oldest-old – those in their 90s and above. I look at this as a life cycle; when you are born and your parents look after you, and then you grow up. As you get older, and get into the Fourth Age, you come back to being looked after.

Do you feel not much attention gets placed on this segment of the population?

The Fourth Age is not getting as much attention as the Third Age. There isn’t a Council of Fourth Age as there is one for the Third Age. In the US and overseas, people tend to think of ageing as very positive and they suppress the negative portions about ageing and hope they won’t go into the Fourth Age. Certainly, it is not nice to see oneself in a wheelchair. Society sees it as a burden so in my view, the Fourth Age is not discussed as it would mean one has to put in resources.

O'Joy's HOA programme.

So what advice would you give to engaging the Fourth Age?

Before we even talk about engaging the Fourth Age, we need to talk about the need to engage the Fourth Age and why. We know that those in the Fourth Age will increase as a result of the growing ageing population and they are living longer, as a result of vast improvements in our healthcare system. Before, many did not live past 80 years old.

I will rather start engaging the older population at the Third Age when they are still active and basically prepare them to enter the Fourth Age. From a life cycle perspective, one will certainly go into this age. Hence, one must be mentally and physically prepared. We need to bring an awareness that there is a dependency stage and where one should be “pampered”.  Sadly, a lot of people call this stage a burden.

We can look at it this way – in the First Age, when parents take care of their children, it is a burden but done with love and joy. So now that the parents have aged, shouldn’t the grown up “baby” take care of parents in the same manner? In fact, those in their Fourth Age should think of this, as it is their right. Sadly most don’t see this and some even consider euthanasia. Euthanasia is a choice ­– but in a life cycle, life will end naturally, so why kill oneself?

Choo Jin Kiat of O'Joy Care Services.

O’Joy has a membership programme for the community called the Health Oriented Ageing (HOA) programme where it involves those who are in the active- and dependent-age group. We want to keep them active and enjoy themselves even though they may be dependent. The young-old HOA volunteers, also known as facilitators, are involved by working with the old-old so they can understand the Fourth Age perspective. When one is still able to, one should ask oneself how one wants to live one’s Fourth Age. I believe the best way to die is to enjoy every moment, be aware of the inevitable and finally pass on peaceful.

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