Debunking The Myths of Ageing

Ask anyone: What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about seniors? The mixed reactions may conjure an image of a frail figure in clothes from another era, or a soft grip on a walking cane.

Often, the stereotype of seniors as tired, alone and depressed can be traced back to our own fears of ageing. It is true that illness and decline of physical and cognitive health becomes a bigger concern with age. However, giving up an active lifestyle after retirement, and fitting into the stereotype of an elderly person doesn’t have to be the norm. In fact, there are plenty of ways that seniors can defy these stereotypes and live agelessly, in confident pursuit of their ambitions. 

Here are some common myths about seniors, tips on how to break away from these ideas, and real life examples of active agers from NTUC Health’s Active Ageing Hubs, Senior Activity Centres, and around the world.

Myth 1: “Seniors feel lonely, or prefer to be alone.”

Relationships change throughout life, and this is true especially for those who lose loved ones to illness or old age, or find it difficult to meet new people as they grow older. However, community is important for humans to feel a sense of belonging and support.

Have you ever reflected on why it was easier to make friends as a student versus as an adult? It could have something to do with the ongoing opportunity to meet peers at school and having regular group activities in a shared environment.

With this in mind, there is opportunity for seniors to actively seek out spaces where they can make friends with like-minded others and enjoy a sense of community. At our Active Ageing Hubs, seniors can choose to pursue their interests and continue to make lifelong friends.

Gracing the stages since she was 8 years old, Mdm Choo Siu Lin has performed with a dance troupe in many countries around the world, coming back to Singapore in 1994 to rediscover her roots. It was “love at first sight” when she discovered NTUC Health’s Active Ageing Hub at Bukit Batok West. At 83 years old, she has never felt more emotionally fulfilled. Volunteering as a dance instructor for other seniors, she now enjoys contributing back to the community that supports her.

Myth 2: “Depression is a normal part of ageing.”

It is not true that depression is a normal part of getting old. In fact, the risk of depression is lower in seniors than it is in younger age groups.

It’s important to think about the reasons why some seniors experience sadness or even depression, such as the loss of family members, financial difficulties, hormonal changes or other health issues. However, it is equally important to know that the tools to cope with these feelings are within reach. Some active agers have developed greater mental wellness through:

  • Confiding in trusted friends and engaging support groups
  • Developing new hobbies and trying new things
  • Exercising to stimulate mood-enhancing chemicals in the brain
  • Seeking medical or psychological help

Mr Bernard Tan is an advocate of mental wellbeing and is a trained volunteer speaker on mental wellness at NTUC Health’s Active Ageing Care Hub (Bukit Batok West). His motivation to educate other seniors on this topic stems from wanting to help others understand and cope with depression. At 67 years old, he is also an active ager and enjoys trying new things, such as yoga-pilates.

Myth 3: “Seniors have ‘old ways’ of thinking. They lose touch with trends and cannot learn new things.”

Every individual has unique perspectives, attitudes and interests. Being able to adapt to change is something everyone can work at, and is not an age-related issue.

Growing older can also bring the advantage of experience and insight. With the right attitude, you can fully enjoy learning new skills and experiences, no matter your age. Many seniors are now adapting to digital tools like social media and video calls to stay in touch with their loved ones, becoming social media influencers (or ‘granfluencers’) through the use of photography or viral videos, and even keeping up with fashion trends.

Let’s reserve the saying “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” for stubborn canines.

Mdm Teo Gek Kee picked up digital skills through the Digital Silvers programme by IMDA in 2021. She can now video call her friends and family, look up recipes online and stay entertained with videos on YouTube. Like her, seniors from NTUC Health have adapted to using technology to shop for groceries online, keep in touch with loved ones on social media and even attend exercise programmes virtually. “It’s important as the government is encouraging us to learn and it is good to learn a new skill,” said the 81 year old from NTUC Health’s Senior Activity Centre (Taman Jurong).

Myth 4: “Seniors don’t have a reason to get out of the house.”

The home is not a cage, and neither is your age. As Singapore prepares for an ageing population, more public places such as museums, natural parks, scenic attractions and restaurants are incorporating elderly-friendly features. These initiatives, including wheelchair ramps and even audio guides for the visually impaired, are helping curious seniors explore Singapore beyond just trips to the supermarket or hospital check ups!

In February 2021, seniors were treated to a tour of the Singapore city, organised by staff from the Day Centre for Seniors (May Wong). It was an opportunity to step out, see the sights and sounds of the city, and return a sense of normalcy for our seniors during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Myth 5: “Seniors are frail, weak and dependent.”

While you should heed the advice of your doctor and not get on that roller coaster if you have heart problems, you can still join the queue to other fun activities that keep you active, like exercise or dance classes designed to be safe for seniors.

You have a lot to gain by participating in regular exercise. Aside from managing chronic illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and high cholesterol, exercise also helps to improve mood and slow down the decline of muscle volume and maintain strength. Some exercise programmes that incorporate light aerobics and resistance training also help seniors improve their balance and flexibility, keeping seniors independent for longer.

Will you invest in your health and fitness, like this 72-year-old gold medal winner, or Singapore’s very own senior weight lifting team?

Every Monday at the Senior Activity Centre (Marsiling), senior couple Mr Ngian Mook Kion and Mdm Soh Lai Tee teach qi gong to fellow seniors. Qi gong is an age-friendly exercise that harnesses the control of breath and body movement to improve well-being. Aside from being good for the joints and flexibility, it is known to also alleviate depression.

Myth 6: “Old people don’t have teeth.”

It is a misconception that we must expect to be toothless once we reach a certain age. While tooth loss following some common oral health issues is a real issue faced by seniors, there are many things that can be done to ensure you keep that set of pearlies intact into old age.

Dental subsidies in Singapore, such as for those holding CHAS, Pioneer Generation or Merdeka Generation cards, have made it more cost-friendly for seniors to follow up with their dentists on a regular basis. Routine cleanings and dental check ups are an opportunity for seniors to treat any underlying gum issues and preserve their natural teeth for longer.

P.S. Even if you lose some or all your teeth, enjoying the food you love and smiling with a full set of teeth is possible. The good news is that the implants and dentures of today are becoming more comfortable and closer to looking like real teeth.

Mr Peter Lim from the Day Centre for Seniors (Heartbeat@Bedok) has a smile to be envious of! He takes care of his teeth by brushing regularly and practising good oral hygiene. This allows him to continue enjoying food like beef and seafood without issues. This cheerful 91 year old also exercises regularly and smiles readily for pictures! Check out this shot taken during a day out to the National Gallery.

Ready to Be Ageless?

Ageing doesn’t have to be scary. Knowing that there are many things you can do to change these fears, you can smash these stereotypes and begin your own journey to be ageless now! There are lots of options for community care, recreational and social activities available for seniors who want to take active ageing into their own hands.

Take the first step to finding your new hobbies or community, and join us on the journey to Be Ageless. It’s never too late to make a difference in your golden years.

Be Ageless with NTUC Health
Be Ageless with NTUC Health