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Sunday December 18, 2011

S’pore’s rising centenarians

Better healthcare and medical facilities among factors for more than 700 people living past the age of 100.

MORE than 700 people in Singapore are 100 years old or above, according to last year’s census. This was up from 500 in 2007, and the number is expected to rise.

One in five Singaporeans will be aged above 65 by 2030, according to a government report published in 2006. The average life expectancy at birth last year was 81.7 years, up from 75.3 years in 1990.

The census found that two-thirds (466) of the 724 centenarians here were women. The Chinese made up 649 of the total.

Singapore’s centenarian figures are on par with those in other countries like Switzerland and Australia, where centenarians make up about 0.01 % of their populations.

People aged 100 and above make up about 0.02 % of the population in the United States. Japan has the highest concentration of people of such vintage, at 0.03% of the population.

National University of Singapore Associate Professor Tan Ern Ser said there are many reasons why Singapore has as many centenarians as it does now, besides advancements in healthcare and medical facilities.

“The figure that really matters is the number who are still healthy. We need to find out how they are in terms of physical, mental and social health,” said Prof Tan.

Susana Concordo Harding, director of the Tsao Foundation’s International Longevity Centre Singapore, echoed his sentiments.

“A person at 90 may be in good health, but another person of the same age could be suffering from a host of chronic illnesses.

“What’s important is that when a person is beyond 65 years old, he continues to have healthy years to live,” she said.

Fortunately for 109-year-old Chang Mui Keow, she is still in the pink of health, even though she now lives at the Econ Healthcare nursing home in Chai Chee.

She lost the strength in her legs last year and now has to use a wheelchair. Fearing that she would cause trouble for her family, she insisted on moving into the home.

The matriarch, who has a fondness for belacan (shrimp paste), raised six children on her own after her husband died when she was only 30, and last lived with her daughter’s family in Bukit Timah.

“Doctors are always amazed when they give her a check-up. She’s never fallen ill before,” said a granddaughter, Tay Siew Buay, 64.

Another thriving centenarian, 100-year-old Chong Ah Khew, now lives with her sister, Cheong Mui, 96, in a two-room flat near Kim Keat Road. They came here by ship from China in the 1920s.

“We eat simply and healthily, like porridge with side dishes that are not oily,” said Chong.

The sisters keep a regular sleeping pattern, turning in at about 8pm and rising at about 5am. They are unmarried.

Chang and the two sisters do not have any particular secret to longevity, but they agree it helps to have a forgiving and compassionate heart.

Geriatric specialist Carol Tan-Goh said some people live longer because they have something to look forward to in life. They are then motivated to adopt the necessary steps to take their medicine or visit the doctor regularly.

“Other factors include having a healthy and well-balanced diet, physical exercise and socialising. One study found that having no friends is as lethal to our health as smoking.”

She said women tend to outlive men by three to four years due to lifestyle differences.

“Women from the older generation live healthier lifestyles than men, they don’t drink and smoke. But the same cannot be said for women from the younger generation.” — Straits Times

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