This article discusses how healthcare professionals can support the premise of ageing successfully by building a vibrant pro-ageing environment alongside policies, education, and structural infrastructure.
Dr Ng Wai Chong, Medical Director of Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing at Tsao Foundation, discussed how healthcare professionals can support the premise of ageing successfully by building a vibrant pro-ageing environment alongside policies, education, and structural infrastructure.
- The patient is ageing successfully when he is content and finds meaning in his own existence
- Maintaining a continual doctor-patient relationship in the patient's journey is priceless
- Family medicine need to be stronger to cater for our ageing population
"A doctor dispensing medications cannot help a patient, unless the patient finds meaning in his own existence."
Dr Ng’s experience working daily in the community gives him stark insight into the gaps in the nation’s effort in trying to support a greying population. With his perspective on eldercare, Dr Ng realised that a doctor dispensing medications cannot help a patient, unless the patient finds meaning in his own existence.
He said, “This is why in Hua Mei we have counsellors who motivate patients to take charge of their own health.”
Dr Ng shared an example of a frail, old gentleman with end-stage renal failure living alone in a one-room rental flat. The gentleman was given a camera to create photographs for an art exhibition.
“His artwork showed a poignant monotony of his daily meals – coffee, eggs and toast for breakfast, a packet of rice for lunch at the Senior Activity Centre, and rice in Styrofoam box for dinner,” Dr Ng shared. “However, his explanation of his artwork was reflective of his contentment, stating ‘it’s the same every day, and this is wonderful’, including a poem to express the sentiment to appreciate every season of our lives.
“I felt that was successful ageing in front of me there.”
"We can shift our frame of mind from referring patients ‘away’ to bringing people from different specialties and expertise in. Then everyone will have a continual sense of ownership of the patients’ issues."
Today, Dr Ng advocates a healthcare system that is more mindful, where practitioners allow more time to understand a patient beyond the diagnosis. He said, “The crux of the matter is how an individual deals with the ageing process. As a doctor, I feel that it is important to touch the heart of patients to make him see the possibilities in spite of their challenges.
“However, when we refer a patient to another doctor or specialist, the doctor-patient relationship starts all over again and the rapport - which is priceless - is displaced. We can shift our frame of mind from referring patients ‘away’ to bringing people from different specialties and expertise in. Then everyone will have a continual sense of ownership of the patients’ issues.”
"The older person should be empowered to connect socially."
The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) proposal of an active ageing framework(1) by Dr Alexandre Kalache has four highlights: Income security, participation in community, health and access to care, and life-long learning.
Dr Ng said, “It reminds us that the older person should be empowered to connect socially, and provides an option of successful ageing even to a person who is wheelchair-bound or with cognitive impairment. It does this by lowering language, physical and financial barriers to the healthcare system - because it can get intimidating to navigate it alone.”
“We must share a common vision and work towards it, and hopefully more of us will be incentivised to go into family medicine. Family medicine needs to be stronger than it is now to cater for an ageing population,” Dr Ng highlighted.
“Sometimes this means just a call from the family physician to the emergency department or the hospital, so the teams there know there's somebody in the community looking out for the patients when they are discharged. Such communication can build greater collaboration and much better outcomes, when the whole healthcare system works as a team both within and beyond the hospitals.”