More elderly people seeking help on ageing issues

A rising number of elderly are seeking help on ageing, indicating that older generations are shedding the stigma traditionally attached to counselling.

"In the past, end-of-life issues are taboo but more are open to talking about it now," said Mr Wong Lit Shoon, executive director of Sage counselling centre, which sees about 300 elderly people every year, twice as many as a decade ago.

"Mindsets are changing," added Ms Wang Jing, senior counsellor at Tsao Foundation, which counselled 135 seniors last year, compared to 86 in 2009 when it first offered the service. "In the past, people wouldn't open up to someone they didn't know."

Better public awareness and increasing education levels have made counselling more acceptable, explained counsellors.

It also helps that more eldercare agencies are recognising the importance of psychological health among the elderly, an area previously neglected in favour of physical well-being.

Mr Choo Jin Kiat, who heads O'Joy Care Services, which counselled 223 elderly people last year - increasing from only 30 back in 2004 - said agencies such as senior activity centres are referring more of their elderly for individual and group counselling.

Such sessions are usually free.

But the elderly are also coming forward because of the increasingly complex issues they face as Singapore ages.

For instance, with more of them living alone, social isolation is becoming a bigger issue.

And with life expectancy increasing, some find themselves having to care for spouses who are ill while coping with their own medical issues.

"Caregiver issues and interpersonal problems are less straightforward now," said Mr Choo.

Singapore's population of seniors will triple to 900,000 by 2030, according to the National Population and Talent Division.

The Government also says about half of Singaporeans who are 65 today are expected to live beyond 85.

Dr Mathew Mathews, a research fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies, who in 2011 completed two studies commissioned by the Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing, found that most of the elderly who received counselling were better off.

The findings of the studies, the first here on gerontological counselling, were shared at a public forum organised by the Tsao Foundation on Monday.

"Counselling allowed them to deal with deep-seated emotional pain, accept unchangeable situations and find new perspectives to their struggles," said Dr Mathews.

"Since counselling has been shown to be beneficial, we should encourage them to come for it even before mental health issues like depression set in."

jantai@sph.com.sg


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