It’s important to have fun after retirement
The article below appeared in the March 27 issue of Health with Perdana, a regular column in The Star by Perdana University faculty members. This week’s article is contributed by Mr. Matthew Teo Yong Chang, a lecturer at Perdana University, School of Occupational Therapy.
The social and economic implications of an ageing population are becoming increasingly apparent in many industrialised nations around the globe.
According to a United Nations forecast, by 2044, 14% of the Malaysian population is expected to be above 65 years of age, making Malaysia an “aged society”.
In these past decades, a growing number of people have been retiring or opting for retirement, even as life expectancy has increased.
The move to retirement is a significant milestone in the life of older adults.
However, there are growing concerns about our ability to maintain well-being among older adults after retirement.
Successful ageing isn’t simply avoiding disease and disability, and keeping up high levels of mental and physical functioning, but also engaging with life.
Thus, satisfactory levels of leisure activities are essential for the aged in order to promote a good quality of life.
Retirement, as a life transition, brings along with it both challenges and opportunities (see infographic below).
It can be defined as the period when an individual stops employment completely and begins a new phase of life.
Many people look forward to, and enjoy, the extra free time they will have to spend with friends and family, and engage in preferred leisure activities.
However, recent studies have reported an increasing trend of physical inactivity among retirees.
Overall, three out of 10 (29.8%) Malaysian older adults are physically inactive.
Many older adults experience loss of feeling of purpose or meaning in life, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic.
Physical distancing and quarantine have aggravated this problem as many retirees have inevitably felt trapped by the digital divide and restricted physical involvement in social participation.
Evidence has shown that older adults who are socially disconnected are at higher risk of developing mental health disorders like depression and anxiety.
Contrary to the common belief that people inevitably become sedentary and weak as they age, studies have shown that reduction in leisure activities has more to do with physical health limitations, rather than with older age itself.
Leisure participation is one of the important domains in instrumental activities of daily living that help maintain one’s independent function and impacts the ability of older adults to age in place.
Involvement in recreational activities can help the elderly improve their quality of life, enhance new experiences, and promote good health, emotional development and self-expression.
Lack of planning
Retirement, without proper planning, can have a detrimental impact on leisure involvement, especially if it is driven by illness or accompanied by a decline in employment opportunities and financial means.
Some of the common reasons for poor leisure participation include:
- Perceived lack of physical fitness
- Shortness of breath
- Lack of energy
- Painful joints
- Problems in gaining access to facilities
- Lack of companionship
- Lack of positive beliefs and attitudes towards physical activity
- Reluctance to meet new people.
The minimum retirement age of an employee in Malaysia is at the age of 60.
Thanks to improved healthcare services and an average life expectancy of 74.5 years, it is considered a decent age for retirement.
However, with low income and high expenditure, Malaysians at large do not save enough, let alone have financial planning.
Many are unaware of the importance of pre-retirement financial planning when they are young and industrious.
So, the question is: “Are we Malaysians prepared for a comfortable retirement?”
If the situation worsens, we might see more and more elders aged 60 and above continue working to sustain themselves in the future.
We can improve well-being through increasing leisure activity participation, while also taking physical health into consideration, particularly for older adults.
Here are a few tips that may help improve leisure participation rates for the elderly:
You are never too old to start exercising again.
The elderly should be made aware of the benefits of exercise classes for their mind and body.
They should be reminded that gentle exercise can improve strength and mobility, while reducing pain and anxiety.
Engage them in physical activities like dancing, walking and tai chi.
Be patient and take the time to listen carefully to your elderly parents or other relatives.
There are very few things more appreciated than undivided attention.
Close and quality conversations held during activities such as a walk after a meal will help increase their physical activity, as well as enhance your relationship.
Encourage them to build new friendships by identifying neighbours or acquaintances with similar personalities and character traits, and sitting them side by side during communal activities or at the local park.
Support and engage your loved ones with family members by including and inviting your relatives to participate in activities, meet-ups, and day trips or holidays.
Encourage your relatives to visit your elderly family members more often.
Create personalised invitations for recreation events – people are often moved by special invitations to social or religious gatherings, and classes on Zumba, yoga, tai chi, etc.
Initiate a volunteer’s programme.
Volunteers are a wonderful resource and can assist by supervising small groups of people playing cards and games, and leading discussion groups and/or reading activities.
Create weekly and/or monthly meetings for special interest groups.
These interests can include journaling, poetry reading, knitting, watching movies, arts and crafts, creative art or baking, for example.
Such groups are a great way to create opportunity to meet regularly and build friendships.
Teaching new technology to older adults may not be easy.
When introducing new tech concepts, build on their existing know-ledge by comparing the concept with something the senior is already familiar with.
This will make it easier for them to understand.
Avoid technical words and use consistent language when you explain the relevance of the technology before going into details.
Watch your pace and repeat key concepts.
Music reconnects people to their pasts.
If they previously played an instrument, rekindle their interest in it.
Or encourage them to go for lessons to learn a musical instrument of their choice.
If they like singing, encourage them to form a karaoke group with like-minded friends or relatives, go for vocal lessons or join a local choir.
These are all simple and inexpensive interventions for improving well-being.
Bringing the old and young generations together could spark an interest in new activities.
Organise leisure activities where the elderly can engage with a group of young students in efforts such as organising a concert, participating in a themed craft session or coming up with a skit.
Falls among older adults can lead to severe physical and psychological consequences.
It is one of most common reasons why the elderly stop participating in leisure activities.
Physical changes, health conditions, and sometimes even the medications used to treat those conditions, could make falls more likely as a person ages.
In fact, falls are a leading cause of injury among older adults.
Still, the fear of falling need not rule your life.
Studies have shown that if you avoid physical activity because you’re afraid you will fall, it actually makes a fall more likely.
There are actually simple steps to prevent fall, such as changing footwear, removing potential fall hazards around the house, lighting up living spaces adequately to prevent tripping on unseen objects, and using walking aids to help you walk steadily.
Involvement with recreational activities can help the elderly continue to engage actively in life and stay healthy and happy.
We should encourage older persons to participate in meaningful, valued and personalised cognitive and social activities, or to re- engage in leisure activities of their interest.
Such interactions will foster a sense of continuity between the past and present, as well as a sense of purpose and hope towards future direction in life – all of which will help to improve quality of life.