SINGAPORE - Two years ago, Ms Audrey Yip turned 57 and developed a few chronic illnesses, including arthritis, post-menopausal osteoporosis and hypertension.
Every day, her joints felt stiff and painful. It was difficult for her to walk, much less to exercise.
Without realising it, she started spending more time at home and less time on her daily activities.
Ms Yip's situation is not unique.
It is actually quite a common occurrence for people, once they are past middle age and nearing retirement.
All of us look forward to our golden years. After all, that is when we are supposed to have more time to do the things that we have always dreamt of doing.
Sadly, we seldom plan for this second half of our lives.
Few of us plan for retirement as diligently as we map out our younger years - when we are busy climbing the corporate ladder and raising a family.
But it's not enough just to have a retirement plan with a comfortable bank balance.
We need to make sure we are fit enough to enjoy this second phase of our lives with family and friends.
What are we going to do with the remaining two decades or so of our lives?
Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) offers mid-lifers and retirees the choice of taking part in active ageing programmes, which can help them lead active and healthy lives. For instance, Engage In Life is an initiative which was adapted from the Passion For Life programme in Sweden.
This programme, from the town of Jonkoping, started as a social movement to empower the elderly to live healthy and productive lives.
Participants learn to take positive actions to enhance their golden years, through a series of interactive discussions and talks by experts.
The programme also incorporates methods to help participants translate the knowledge into action.
Based on this concept, TTSH's department of continuing and community care, health promotion team and the National Healthcare Group came up with a local version - Engage In Life.
In 2012, Ms Yip signed up as a participant.
It has made a big difference.
The workshop helped her to identify areas in her life which she had neglected, such as healthy eating habits, catching up with old friends and engaging in safe physical activities.
Since then, she has made changes, which allowed her to have a more active and healthier life. Today, Ms Yip is a volunteer facilitator for the Engage In Life workshop and a member of the fraternity of patients and health-care professionals who care about active ageing.
MANAGING HEALTH PROBLEMS AS ONE AGES
Chronic illness and degenerative disease become more common as we age.
Unlike acute illnesses, which are reversible, chronic conditions linger on and affect a person's well-being and ability to look after himself in old age.
Older people usually have more than one chronic illness and suffer from symptoms such as pain, fatigue and anxiety.
Using the chronic disease self-management programme developed by Stanford University in the United States, doctors at TTSH help older people to boost their confidence in managing their own health and their ability to cope with symptoms.
Key skills taught in this programme are action planning, goal setting, taking medication, as well as managing pain, fatigue and depression.
As we grow older, physical and mental health become more vital in maintaining our independence.
To encourage seniors to remain active and free from injuries, TTSH runs a falls-prevention programme, which is targeted at elderly people living in the community.
Stepping Out Into Active Life is a one-year programme which focuses on exercise to improve strength, balance and coordination, combined with education and health screening to detect risk for falls.
Four years on, this programme has helped more than 1,000 seniors.
They have managed to improve their physical function, self-confidence and quality of life.
Ageing has always been associated with loneliness and illness, but it doesn't have to be that way.
With TTSH's many programmes, we can engage our elderly folk to adopt a more healthy and active lifestyle.
This way, they can look forward to better quality of life as they grow older.
Ms Yip, who owns a business which helps children with reading difficulties, has had to cut down on her work assignments significantly.
This helps her to cope better with her joint pain in the afternoons.
At the same time, she has increased her engagement in voluntary work in order to remain active.
To end off, I would like to share her poem on active ageing:
Fifty, sixty, seventy, eighty
No, I'm not counting coins in the piggy
But years that have flown
Oh! How I have grown
Another silver hair already
What's that, you say, I've had my day?
Not yet I pray, I want to stay
Doing things and tinkering
Engaged in life till I go grey.
Dr Noor Hafizah Ismail is a senior consultant at the department of continuing and community care at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, the flagship of the National Healthcare Group, the Regional Health System for central Singapore. She specialises in falls prevention and rehabilitation among the elderly.
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