Growing older without feeling old


Dr Rudi GJ Westendorp, Professor of Medicine at Old Age, University of Copenhagen, Denmark, leaves nothing out in his book, “Growing Older Without Feeling Old: On Vitality and Ageing”(left). He debunks many fad diets and “solutions” to ageing, and examines the attitudes of old people themselves.

Ageless Voice chats with the expert on ageing and the well-being of older people about his book and his perspectives on ageing:

With more people growing old and more are growing older, what does this mean to society and individuals?

Within a period of a hundred years, average life expectancy has doubled from 40 to 80 years. And it keeps going up. There has never been a time that one could foresee such a long and healthy life. The concentration of deaths moved from the youngest to the oldest ages and is accompanied by an unprecedented decrease in fertility rates. It has changed the demographic pyramid of our population drastically. With large increases in survival rates in the last half-century, current cohorts will move up through the population distribution. In 2050, the original pyramid will reach an almost rectangular shape and a skyscraper has erected.

These ‘demographic’ changes are at the heart of political, economic and public debate as the relative number of older adults increases. Governments have responded with measures in family planning, labour, social support and healthcare. I argue that the principle vision behind many of these measures is misguided, and ineffective as a result, as it is based on an (implicit) idealisation of the population pyramid with plenty youngsters to take care of the older population. Instead I suggest an age-independent approach that does not take chronological age – as a criterion for social contribution and (healthcare) consumption – as its basis.

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Arts unlock those with dementia

A photo taken by one of ADA's clients in the photography part of the Arts & Dementia Programme.

There is much evidence that the arts help to stimulate those with dementia. Dr Donald Yeo, a clinical neuropsychologist at KALL Psychological & Counselling Services with a special interest in the psychological aspects of ageing and dementia, spoke about one such project called the Arts & Dementia Programme by the Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA) at the RehabTech Asia conference in March. He is also a volunteer at ADA.

Ageless Voice finds out more:

So how does arts work with those who have dementia?

With dementia, the thinking part of brain deteriorates and this affects language skills. One is not able to communicate verbally, however, arts get around this in a non-verbal manner by activating the brain’s emotional part and bypassing the limitations.

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Graying prisoners in Singapore

Singapore’s prisons is looking to prototype the first age-friendly prison cell.

With a growing ageing population, this will mean many facilities will need to re-think the existing environments to cater to seniors. This includes Singapore’s prisons, which is looking to prototype the first age-friendly prison cell here that are retrofitted with anti-slip floors, grab bars and hand rails, among other features.

According to a newspaper article in “Today”, among those locked up, 418 were above 60 years of age last year, an increase from the 2010 figure of 217. According to an invitation to tender posted on the Government procurement site, GeBiz, the focus of the proposed enhancements is the toilet areas in 23 existing cells.

The article shared: “New water closets with huge push buttons and stainless steel grab-bars will be installed, while existing shower roses will be fitted with self-closing taps with large buttons. Grab bars and hand rails will also be mounted with tamper-resistant accessories. The overall toilet area will also be enlarged, with sufficient space for portable commodes.”

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New manpower initiatives to support growing ageing community

Dr Amy Khor interacting with resident from Sree Narayana Mission Home during the arts painting at the AIC’s Community Care Forum.

In light of a rapidly ageing Singapore population which will increase to three-fold over the next two decades resulting in the need for more manpower to support the increased healthcare and social care services, the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) is pulling out all stops to achieve this.

To attract, develop and retain local community support care workers, it is piloting four new manpower development initiatives from June 1, 2015 to May 31, 2016. This was announced during the Community Care Forum 2015 held by AIC.

Senior Minister of State for Health Dr Amy Khor, shared in the opening speech at the Forum, “The community care sector is a sunrise sector that offers many good job opportunities for Singaporeans who wish to pursue a meaningful career, be it as senior care associates looking after the elderly in the centres, therapy aides working with seniors on their rehabilitation, or healthcare assistants who care for the daily needs of residents in a nursing home.”

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Quality of life is more important than extension of life

Patrick Cheung, right, shares his perspectives during the Modern Aging launch.

At the Modern Aging launch, I heard Patrick Cheung, founder and honorary executive director of The Jade Club, a social enterprise based in Hong Kong that is tackling elderly care challenges in Greater China, touch on the importance of quality of life.

He shared this with me in an e-mail after the event: “Quality of life is more important than extension of life. Most governments use majority of their budget in saving life at hospitals rather than improving quality of life at old age. Hong Kong specifically needs to focus on this area and look at ageing-in-place. Being able to die at home surrounded with your loved one is much better than dying in the hospital.

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