Ageing successfully

Couple on Beach

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), life expectancy and medical advances has lengthened lifespans in most countries, and the number of people aged 60 years and older has doubled since 1980. Living longer is easy, with the advances we’re making in the domain of science and medicine. But we’re probably more interested in answering the question of how we can age successfully. That and avoiding dementia.

On this International Day of Older Persons, let’s review what’s been known for a while:

1. Eat your veggies!

There’s no getting away from it. Studies show that those who live a long independent life in Okinawa eat lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as fish and whole-grains. Their habit of eating until they feel 80% full is also likely a major contributor to the reason for their disability-free longevity.

2. Stay active!

Research indicates that cardiovascular disease risk is a major contributor to Alzheimer’s and vascular dementia (Fratiglioni et al., 2004). Lowering this risk through regular, weekly moderate-to-vigorous exercise is one strategy. And also a reason why Sardinians, who herd sheep over steep hills, are reputed to age successfully (see this TED video about the blue zones).

3. Engage your social brain!

A review of the literature shows that adults who are socially active are also likely to have better psychological wellbeing in their later years; being engaged in social activities and having stronger social networks is a protective factor against dementia (Fratiglioni et al., 2004). Various studies show that religious attendance, community involvement, and being employed are associated with better mental wellbeing among older adults. These activities are also shown to be helpful for local residents too…

So to sum, it’s the same thing that us active younger (a little bit younger) adults need to start doing. But we just need to keep doing them!

Caregiving: It’s a thankful job

World Elder Abuse Day

The World Health Organization defines dementia as a syndrome in which there is deterioration in memory, thinking, behaviour and the ability to perform everyday activities. It is not considered part of normal ageing, but affects a substantial number of older adults. The Statistical Appendix from the local Alzheimer’s Disease Association put the number of locals with dementia at 22 for every 1000 persons in the year of 2005.

The multidimensional response to the negative appraisal and perceived stress resulting from taking care of an ill individual (Kim et al., 2011) does however negatively affect those tasked with looking after the care recipient. This caregiver burden puts strain and stress particularly on those in full or part-time employment.

And caregivers aren’t necessarily only those who do this job fulltime. There are more caregivers out there than you think. A 2011 Singstat Singapore Newsletter article reports that almost 75% of respondents providing regular assistance to friends or family in 2010 were also working adults who juggle work with caregiving responsibilities.

Given that research has shown that caregiver stress increases with the physical dependency of the care receipient, it’s all the more important that caregivers are equipped with the right knowledge. Kua and Tan in a 1997 study (see also Mehta, 2005) found that those who looked after care receipients with dementia tended to experience a high level of stress. And according to WHO, this is a pattern observed in other communities as well.

But the mental health of caregivers is often overlooked. Although various organisations like the US Family Caregiver AllianceTouch Caregivers, Singapore Caregiving Welfare Association, Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully, Council for the Third Age, Asian Women’s Welfare Association, Tsao Foundation and Singapore Family Caregivers, have useful self-care tips, caregivers typically do not seek help for themselves.

So we may need to play our part and help someone we know and care about. The American Psychological Association (APA) suggests a self-assessment instrument which was designed by the American Medical Association.

So on this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, help that person you know take a step in the right direction. Get him or her to assess his or her stress levels, which will ultimately protect himself or herself from being burnt out as a caregiver!