Life does not end at 60!
Bye-bye to the myths of old age, hello to a long lifespan filled with many productive years.
BY: Dr Patrick Kee
Life does not end at 60. The number of persons aged 65 years and above in the world will increase rapidly in the coming years.They will also have a longer lifespan with many reaching the age of 100 years or more. Unfortunately, many elderly feel rejected, helpless and hopeless.
Negative mindsets about old age need to be changed. Mark Twain wisely observed: “Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” We need to change unhealthy and stereotypical images of old age.
Sickness is not caused by old age
Old age is a normal stage of human life like infancy. It is NOT a disease like arthritis or cancer. Ageing per se does not cause disability and dependency. In fact, many problems of old age have their roots in our youth. Young women who do not exercise and build up their bone reserves run the risk of suffering from osteoporosis during their post-menopausal years. Those who smoke in their younger days will suffer from the effects of chronic lung problems or stroke in their old age.
Disability and dependency are not the consequences of old age
Another common myth is that the elderly are too old to do anything useful. Many people assume that the elderly have to be cared for constantly. But disability among the elderly has been declining for the past few decades. With declining disability, the quality of life for the elderly will improve as they can engage in enjoyable activities and continue working till they are much older.
More often than not, it is the attitude and belief system of the individual and society that cause disability rather than the disease. The belief that one must have perfect health to be productive and successful in life blinds us to the opportunities to lead full lives in spite of disabilities. Our external problems can keep us from seeing the real source of disability within ourselves.
We don’t have to lose our minds in old age
It is commonly thought that tens of thousands of brain cells die each day. However, recent research has found that the brain contains about 100 billion neurons or brain cells, and that only a few of these neurons die during a person’s lifetime. There is a decline of only five percent to 15 percent in our mental capacity over an entire lifetime. Experiments have proven that the brain does not worsen with age. When the brain is used well, it continues to improve throughout life.
Social isolation is one of the problems of old age but not the result of old age. It is critical to prevent social isolation in old age as social activity and interaction keep the brain active and slow down the decline in memory loss.
Good social support through emotional support and physical assistance promote health in the elderly and reduce dependency as well. However, unneeded or unwanted support may do more harm than good, especially when it reduces the independence and self-esteem of the elderly.
We can have sexual intimacy in old age
In a world obsessed with sex, we are unable to see the truth that to be fully alive and “living an active, engaged, sensuous and colourful life” is to be sexual in some way. There is more to sexual intimacy than the physical act of intercourse. It is the expression of true love – a love rooted in the commitment to be together, to share common interests and to care for one another. It involves giving and receiving, the surrendering of our desires so that we may share the joy of loving and being loved.
We need to get rid of the above myths which depicts the elderly as frail, needy and infirm. The elderly of the future is a group of people who can contribute as much to society as the young. Life can begin in new ways at 60 as we learn to maximise the use of the bonus years of longevity.
Dr Patrick Kee, 64, is a specialist in palliative medicine who has been caring for the terminally-ill for the past 10 years. He is currently working part-time with the HCA Hospice Care and is a director of TLC Home Medical Services. His interests include reading, writing, travelling and learning to play the ukulele.