As a practising medical specialist, Singapore’s first female Nominated Member of Parliament, and a founder of many civil society organisations including WINGS (Women’s Initiative for Ageing Successfully), Dr Kanwaljit Soin’s first book is filled with anecdotes from her experiences as a doctor, a civil society activist, a parliamentarian and most poignantly an individual who has embraced ageing, gracefully. The book touches on a wide plethora of issues from health, physical and mental well-being, sex, gender, wealth, and long-term care encouraging us to embrace the course in a graceful manner.
According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), between 2015 and 2050, the proportion of the world’s population over 60 years will nearly double from 12% to 22%. Singapore has the oldest population in Southeast Asia and within a decade the percentage of seniors in Singapore will rise to 27%, the process accelerated by the nation’s low birth rate.
This book is an “all you need to know” memo conveniently divided into sections on: Body; Mind and Spirit; Culture; and Economy. The Body section deals with ageing on a biological level, with the progression resulting from the impact of accrued molecular and cellular damage over time. The Mind and Spirit section transitions beyond the biological aspects of ageing and focusses more on an individual’s mental well-being through life transitions such as life post-paid work, friends and social life.
My preferred section is the one on Culture where Dr Soin delves into the reflective elements of life that establishes the need for a sense of meaning and purpose. The final Economy section is about the need for opportunities and policies to support the extra-long years of an individual and to make life meaningful for both the individual and society. It questions the current “linear life path” of education- workforce participation-retirement which frame many public policies.
The book ‘tells it as it is’, ageing is real, the process is slow, it is diverse, it is complex, it could be random, it certainly is unequal, and ultimately dependent on a plethora of factors. Despite the seeming randomness of ageing, there are certain behaviours we can adopt that would allow us to age more gracefully. It is widely accepted that lifelong healthy behaviours like eating a balanced diet, engaging in routine physical activity, and abstaining from tobacco use can reduce the risk of certain diseases and help to improve an individual’s physical and mental capacity. The book also encourages its readers to give equal attention towards the psychological, social, and economic aspects of ageing; preparation is the key to a smooth transition.
Peppering of a few personal accounts or examples with the research in some instances might have made the book a little more interesting.
Overall, the author’s intent to explain the ageing process with “optimism and hope” is reassuring. The book is an easy read and the memo style is helpful so as to not bore the reader with monotony.
Dr Uma Natarajan is a Principal Officer, Education at The HEAD Foundation. Her research interests are teacher quality, teacher policy, scientific inquiry and integrating technology in classrooms.