Health and wellness in ageing


  • Health
  • Sunday, 08 Feb 2004

By Prof LOW WAH YUN

HEALTH is one of the most valuable and important possessions a person can have. The World Health Organisation defines health as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This definition includes an absence of disability, freedom from symptoms and illness, and a general state of wellness.  

Hippocrates (370 BC) alluded to wellness as “all parts of the body that have a function, if used in moderation and exercised in labours to which each is accustomed, become healthy and well developed and age slowly. But if unused and left idle, they become liable to disease, defective in growth and age quickly”.  

Advances in science, technology and in medicine have brought about improvement in health and health care services. There is a marked increase in life expectancy and living longer can be seen as both an achievement and a challenge.  

The ageing population affects everyone. There is also a change in disease pattern from one of communicable diseases to chronic diseases. Chronic diseases such as cardiovascular disease, cancers, respiratory diseases, and accidents are largely lifestyle diseases, which are caused by man himself/herself, and they are amenable to change.  

Psychosocial stresses and lifestyle factors contribute substantially to morbidity and mortality from disease and this has led to the inclusion of psychosocial and cultural knowledge relevant to the prevention of health, maintenance of health and adjustment to illness.  

In the promotion of health and the minimisation of disease, one needs to consider not only biological factors but also psychological, social and other factors in the etiology of a particular disease or illness. It is only with this understanding of the root cause that one can tackle these problems. 

Psychological factors, particularly stress, anxiety and depression, personality factors, and social support exert a great influence on health and health outcomes in the golden years. To some, the stress of being unemployed, retirement and loneliness is an area where psychological factors play a major role in health.  

Stress may affect health by producing changes in the bodily systems, as well as affecting the functions of the immune system. These changes may contribute or aggravate such conditions like hypertension, peptic ulcer and other medical conditions. Prolonged stress may lead to anxiety and depressive reactions, as well as physical health problems such as coronary heart disease and the impairment of the immune system.  

Stressful life events, such as death, bereavement, marital breakdown or divorce, loss of employment, income and social status may be important in the etiology of not only physical illnesses but also psychological illnesses. For some in the golden years, depression sets in and professional help is needed to overcome this. 

The way we think also affects all aspects of life. Develop a positive attitude in handling all the stresses in life. Most of the time, we tend to have negative thoughts. Listen to your own self and manage your stress positively. Learn to communicate, find your spirituality, have a sense of humour and have a good laugh, as laughter is the best medicine! 

Another aspect which is also vital in the golden years is social support. There is a clear link between social support and health. Social support is defined as the number of social contacts maintained by a person or the extensiveness of a social network. It has an impact on health status, symptoms, physiological reactivity and mortality. Social networks can be a significant predictor of longevity.  

It has been shown that men with weak social networks are nearly 2.5 times more likely to die within a defined time period than men with extensive networks, and women benefit even more from established social networks.  

Studies have also shown that a combination of high levels of stress and low levels of social support is a strong predictor of negative health outcomes. People with good social support tend to have better health outcomes: they cope better with their illnesses, experience higher morale and self-esteem and have reduced vulnerability to stress.  

There is no doubt that social support and health are related in a way that ill health is more pronounced for those who lack support. Therefore, involvement in community activities, families and friends is vital, as this strong social interaction is instrumental in promoting continued physical and mental activity. It is one of the keys to healthy living and healthy ageing. 

The best way to deal with illness and disease is prevention. For instance, in lifestyle diseases, behaviours such as smoking, excessive alcohol consumption, substance abuse, diet, relationships and exercise are individual behaviours that can be modified and controlled.  

It is important to ensure that one reaches old age in good health and can therefore still contribute to society. As Rowe and Kahn rightly said in their book Successful Aging, “we can have a dramatic impact on our own success or failure in ageing. Far more than is usually assumed, successful ageing is in our own hands”. 

 

  • This article is a contribution of The Star Health & Ageing Panel, a group of panellists who are not just opinion leaders in their respective fields of medical expertise, but have wide experience in medical health education for the public.  

    The members of the panel include: Datuk Prof Dr Tan Hui Meng, consultant urologist; Dr Yap Piang Kian, consultant endocrinologist; Dr Azhari Rosman, consultant cardiologist; A/Prof Dr Philip Poi, consultant geriatrician; Dr Hew Fen Lee, consultant endocrinologist;/Prof Sarinah Low, psychologist; Dr Nor Ashikin Mokhtar, consultant obstetrician and gynaecologist; Dr Keith Lim, consultant rheumatologist; Dr Ting Hoon Chin, consultant dermatologist.  

    The Star Health & Ageing Advisory Panel provides this information for educational and communication purposes only and it should not be construed as personal medical advice. Information published in this article is not intended to replace, supplant or augment a consultation with a health professional regarding the reader’s own medical care. 

    The Star Health & Ageing Advisory Panel disclaims any and all liability for injury or other damages that could result from use of the information obtained from this article. 


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