Each year, on Oct 1, we celebrate the United Nations’ International Day of Older Persons. The entire month is packed with events and activities, and media coverage of everything related to seniors.
It is an annual reminder that we are growing older, that there are challenges to be met and to prepare for.
Not that we need reminding. The mirror does that for us daily.
Not that long ago, no one (not even the government) knew or cared about what Oct 1 meant. But when the alarm bells rang to warn of an impending “silver tsunami”, suddenly we see nursing homes, senior living residences sprouting up everywhere.
Conferences, talks, exhibitions on ageing well, retirement planning, healthcare are held practically every other week. It is as if the panic button had been activated, and there is a rush to get ready before the country’s growing ageing population aged 65 and above reaches 15% or six million by 2040.
While the government is speeding up building an elderly-friendly ecosystem, what can we, the seniors, do for ourselves? How do we prepare for our old age to ensure we have more years of good health and fewer years of disabilities?
One of the open secrets to ageing well and being able to remain fit and do most of the things we enjoyed doing in our younger days is to start laying the foundation early.
If you have missed out on an early start, it’s never too late to begin adopting a healthy lifestyle. A daily exercise regime helps to strengthen our immune system and protect our body against frailty. If you don’t have the discipline to exercise on your own, join a line dance class or an outdoors group that goes hiking or brisk walking regularly.
The social connection in group activities is an added benefit. Having supportive friends helps to keep our spirits up and drives away any hint of depression especially for seniors living alone.
The current generation of older people – the baby boomers, born during the post-WW2 boom years 1946 to 1964, is the first wave of retirees who have had the benefit of education and gainful employment.
They are now reaping the rewards of years of hard work, enjoying financial security and living life to the fullest. These septuagenarians and octogenarians are giving “old age” a brand-new meaning and image.
Thanks to advances in medicine, science and technology, the “new old” are fitter, healthier and looking much younger than their parents’ generation.
And their numbers are growing, worldwide. We need not look further for evidence of this new breed of seniors than in the recently concluded three-day Senior Festival organised by Amazing Seniors.
The Talent Quest event was an excellent showcase of the new seniors. Looking at them singing and dancing with gusto on stage, the young ones in the audience couldn’t help but be amazed at the energy and the spirit of fun these seniors displayed. Who could believe the models in the fashion show were seniors with the oldest at 85?
The seniors in the Malay dances and those on the ukeleles showed that older people can learn from scratch anything if they have the interest and passion to do so.
The new old are breaking all the rules on how we should age. Who says Grandmas are not supposed to look glamorous? Where does it say Grandpas shouldn’t have fun? Which handbook or religious book are these do’s and don’ts coming from?
Where does it say that older people should behave a certain way? The retirement years are for enjoying life. We deserve a well-earned rest after years of work.
What a terrible waste of precious time if we spend it counting the days and preparing religiously to hear that last boarding call for our final departure. If we are always afraid of death and ageing, and spend our time getting ready to depart, our lives will truly be grey.
Looking ahead with anticipation
We need to face ageing with positivity. So go out there. Try new experiences as long as they are not a risk to life or limb. The new generation of seniors are ready to venture forth to where their predecessors had feared to go.
They are saying no to social stigmas that dictate how older people should behave, or face public ridicule, scorn, even ostracism.
They are shattering the long-held perception of older people as frail, senile and economically unproductive, and a drain on the country’s resources.
Those who do not have the means, such as time, money and education to age well envy those who are ‘privileged’.
But why envy? Envy gets us nowhere. Take action. Anyone and everyone can age well.
Getting our body moving is free. So are fresh air and sunlight. Thoughts are free too. Think positive. Think hope. You will be surprised what a huge dose of positivity and good habits can do for our health and wellbeing.
It’s a cliche but it needs repeating – change begins with us.
Our health is our responsibility. We know what to do, but we don’t do it. A lack of motivation makes us complacent until a serious health issue triggers an immediate response – an emergency trip to the doctor or the hospital.
Change takes time, but older people don’t have the luxury of time. So just do it. Live healthy, live well, live long.
I used to be amused at cartoons and jokes that poke fun at old people, depicting them as senile and forgetful, like taking ages to cross a road and holding up traffic, or using Tipp-Ex to erase typos on the computer screen.
These images only reinforce the negative perception of older people as unfit for re-employment, and a drain on the nation’s resources. Such depictions of older people are in poor taste.
It explains why ageism is still being practised especially in the job market, and older people continue to be overlooked or discriminated against.
As the country moves into an era that will see a huge demographic shift, it is pertinent that we change how society looks at older people. It’s time we see them through new lens that focus on their strengths, their experience and their talents.
Hopefully, the new old will herald a more positive perception of our senior citizens as vibrant and still capable of contributing much to the economy and to nation-building.
Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.