Aging concerns

When one grows old, the person’s body goes through transformations. Unless you have contact with an elderly, you may not know what he (or she) is going through. He loses hearing and sight gradually. His balance may be affected causing him to fall easily. His memory is fading. He has arthritic joints that physical movement can be a pain. His teeth are no longer strong and enjoying food is affected. Recovery from illnesses would take longer. The elderly may be alone when his partner left him earlier. He can be depressed for various reasons.

Aging can be pretty depressing if one is not prepared for it. Aging in society is a concern. Are we prepared for it?

Let’s look at some statistics.

The number of citizens aged 65 and above is increasing rapidly. The size of this group doubled from 220,000 in 2000 to 440,000 in 2015, and is expected to double again to 900,000 by 2030 another 15 years later 1.

Based on projection, the number of citizens aged 20 to 64 (working-age citizens) to the number aged 65 and above would shrink from 5:1 in 2015 to 2:1 in 2030. That is to say 2 working-age persons supporting 1 older person in 2030 1.

The reality is that we are seeing more elderly persons living well into 80+ years because of better health care and living conditions in Singapore. This is a good thing. What is more important is whether the elderly has the quality of life in later years when sickness and fall-risk become common?

When elderly person starts to lose the vitality of life with poor eye-sight, hearing loss, loss of balance and multiple medical problems with her body, how is she going to live through it? The psychological pain that follows can hit her harder than the physical pains.

I know these concerns because I have a 90+ mother and I am moving into 65+ category in a few years time. The elderly in their later years will need assisted help in the basic tasks such as bathing, toileting, eating and moving around. I had visited a nursing home to experience and to talk to some residents. I had also volunteered at a palliative care hospital and saw first hand patients undergoing treatments in these wards. Aging can result in lost of quality of life, dignity and freedom to make personal choices.

Medical care of sick elderly often treats the problem areas that can be treatable, such as heart weakening, high blood pressure. Sometimes, active listening and allowing the elderly their freedom of choices may be all it takes to keep them happy (even against medical advice). Do we actually want our aged parents to be happy or do we just want to do things that ease our effort in looking after them? We can be selfish since we have our other commitments, such as a career and looking after our own young kids. These are conflicting emotions and it agonizes us.

Have we got a solution before the aging concerns overwhelm us in the future?

1 Source: “Singapore feeling impact of rapidly ageing population”, Today newspaper, 1 July 2015

ps. I have started to read this book, “Being Mortal – Illness, Medicine, and What Matters in the End” by Professor Atul Gawande at Havard Medical School. It opens my eyes.File_000

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