The dynamics of healthy aging

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Shin Min Daily News, 8 Jun 2024, The dynamics of healthy aging (translation)

Imagine how wonderful it would be if every senior was filled with the energy and curiosity of young people! In Singapore, we are creating a reality where seniors not only live longer, but also live more fulfilling and meaningful lives. Through psychological research and carefully designed activities, we are helping seniors maintain their zest for life.

The World Health Organization proposed the definition of “healthy aging” in 2015 as “people being able to do what they value.” If we want to understand “healthy aging,” we need to discover what older adults find “valuable” and what motivates them towards achieving and sustaining it in their lives.

According to the socioemotional selectivity theory proposed by scholar Laura Carstensen, as people age, they tend to prioritise emotionally meaningful goals and relationships. This shift in focus leads to a positivity effect, with older adults paying more attention to positive information and experiences. This emotional regulation helps enhance their motivation and overall well-being, which is critical for communities and policymakers to create environments that promote this positive engagement.

Scholars Zacher and Frese proposed how to influence the work motivation, job satisfaction and performance of older employees. After conducting structural equation modelling on data from 176 employees from various occupations, they found that older employees’ motivation and drive continued unabated when they believed there were future opportunities to look forward to, such as engaging in complex jobs. This illustrates the importance of providing older people with continued opportunities to engage and contribute, whether through work, volunteerism or community activities.

Integrating these psychological insights into community planning and policy can have far-reaching positive impacts. First, it helps older adults live fulfilling lives by providing opportunities for lifelong learning, promoting social relationships, and supporting adaptive strategies, such as encouraging the pursuit of new knowledge and skills. Second, we can support and participate in community initiatives, such as shared gardening or book clubs, that provide meaningful interaction and foster a sense of belonging. Third, ensure that work environments, public spaces and transportation facilities are age friendly, promoting their mobility and independence.

Simple modifications, such as adding seating areas and clear signage, can significantly improve seniors’ experience of navigating and enjoying their community. Similarly, appropriate adjustments to the workplace, such as establishing more suitable work requirements and environment, can also help older employees better participate in work and enhance their work experience.

As Singapore continues to evolve, it is crucial to ensure that seniors remain motivated and engaged. Let us work together so that “golden years” is not just a phrase, but a real-life experience for every senior.