Lee Kuan Yew, the founding prime minister of Singapore, passed away on Monday morning. As the first prime minister, Mr. Lee helped shape many policies in the formative years of independence. As the Singapore population matured, aging became an issue of concern for Mr. Lee. He shared some personal views on aging at a forum in 2010, when he himself was close to ninety.
Mr. Lee said, “I think the most important single lesson I learned in life was that if you isolate yourself, you’re done for. The human being is a social animal – he needs stimuli, he needs to meet people, to catch up with the world.”
Mr. Lee also said, “You must have an interest in life… If you’re not interested in the world and the world is not interested in you, the biggest punishment a man can receive is total isolation in a dungeon, black and complete withdrawal of all stimuli, that’s real torture.”
Indeed, part of aging well is maintaining social support and engagement in activities. Population trends in Singapore indicate that, in the future, many more elderly will be single and living alone. We must create opportunities to help these elderly avoid isolation.
How can this be done? Many are thinking of solutions. The ACCESS Health Singapore team spoke to a professor in architecture. She explained to us that simply adding a small space to common corridors for residents to sit and mingle can draw them out of their flats. Eventually, she said, the residents may venture down their blocks and into the community.
There must be other ways to help our elderly age well. People from all sectors are thinking of novel ways to make a difference in the Singapore silver industry, a promising development. Mr. Lee’s advice was for individuals to take an interest in the world and to avoid isolation. How we can help is to think of creative ways to encourage these individuals to do so.
Perhaps then we can live out Mr. Lee’s wish, “Have a purpose driven life and finish well, my friends.”
ACCESS Health studies good examples of elder care in Sweden. In a series of group interviews, the Swedish team of ACCESS Health meets with a group of senior citizens to understand their needs. In this interview, the participants discuss technology, share their views on Swedish healthcare, and tell us about their experiences as informal caregivers. When they learned about the work of ACCESS Health, the participants volunteered for the focus group. The focus group participants live in the city of Eskilstuna, one hour southwest of Stockholm.
The blog post of this week is an extract from a group interview conducted on December 31, 2014 with Gudrun Bergström, eighty six, Gujje Byström, eighty nine, Inga Brehmer, eighty eight, and Ingrid Svahn, eighty five.
This is an insightful and fun read! Enjoy!
Inga Bremer (IB): My name is Inga Bremer. I am eighty eight years old. I am interested in technology. I own an iPad. I own a Doro telephone. [Doro is a company that developed a simplified mobile telephone for older users.] My Doro is easy to use. My Doro telephone is not a smartphone. Dora does develop smartphones for older consumers right now. I also own a laptop. I own other technical devices at home, such as a dishwasher and a washing machine. I also have a small automatic vacuum cleaner so that I do not need to vacuum constantly. I have three large flat screen televisions with over fifty channels. I would call myself mildly interested in technology.
Gudrun Bergström (GB): My name is Gudrun Bergström. I am eighty six years old. I love technology. I am handicapped. I have poor eyesight. Technical solutions help me live with my sight impairment. I do not own a smartphone. I own a Doro telephone.
I have one of the newest stationary computers that you can buy. I use a magnifying software program that helps me increase the size of the text of the documents on my computer. I own an external hardware product. This hardware product helps me to magnify texts and images so that I can read and see the images better. This program is called Zoom Text.
I wear a watch that reads the time for me out loud. That is a great device. I have hearing aids. I also have three televisions. I use my three televisions. I have connected my television in the kitchen with an external hard drive so that I can record programs and store them.
Sofia Widen (SW): Do you record a lot of television programs?
GB: Yes. It allows me to watch them when I want to watch the programs. It took some time to figure out how to record programs. Learning is a gradual process.
I buy technology products. The booklet with instructions is written in a small text. This is problematic. It is difficult for older consumers to read small text. I can read instructions with my magnifying program. My dream is that doctors will find a way to operate a new sight nerve into my eyes so that I regain my sight. We are not there yet.
SW: Do you use your computer to browse websites?
GB: I browse a lot of different websites. I disapprove of some things that people write on Facebook.
SW: Do you have a Facebook account?
GB: Of course. I am on Facebook.
SW: Are you active on other social media sites?
GB: No. I am not interested in blogging or in tweeting. I use Skype. I Skype with my family. I have a wireless internet connection in my apartment.
IB: We should have spoken before you, Gudrun. You have so many devices.
GB: I love technology. My husband was not interested in technology. I installed devices at home. I learn about new products. I want to buy them. More people my age ought to take an interest in technology. Technology can help the elderly.
Ingrid Svahn (IS): Technology is in your nature. Either, you understand technology or you do not.
GB: I disagree. Look at the young who adopt technology. Are they born with an ability to absorb technology quickly? I do not think so. The young set aside time to learn how to use the technology.
IS: My name is Ingrid Svahn. I just turned eighty five. My husband knew everything about technology. I never needed to learn. My husband passed away a few years ago. I use modern technology. I am not interested in technology. I had a computer. I threw it out when it crashed.
SW: What did you use your computer for?
IS: I served on the board of an organization. I used my computer to type out the minutes from our board meetings. I have a smartphone. I use my smartphone sometimes.
SW: How do use your smartphone?
IS: I play games. I like Alphabet and Scrabble. I will say, though, that like other retirees, I do not have time to play all these games. Many retired people I know say they are busy. I also feel that I am busy all the time. I also own televisions. I use a dishwasher and a vacuum cleaner.
I use a pen for my touchscreen smartphone. I do not have Wi-Fi. I access the internet through the mobile network. Other family members discuss what kind of technology I need. They discuss whether I should install Wi-Fi or not. I do not know how the discussion will end. I might buy a tablet.
GB: I recommend a tablet. Tablets are great. You can carry it around. You can carry a mobile phone of course. I would not compare the two products. A tablet is helpful for my reduced sight. I prefer a larger tablet.
Gujje Byström (GBO): I am eighty nine years old. I am not interested in technology. I own one television. I watch eleven channels. I dislike watching television during the day. I record my programs. I watch them in the evening.
From the left, Inga Brehmer with her Doro telephone and her tablet. In the middle, Gudrun Bergström, with her Doro telephone and her tablet. To the right, Ingrid Svahn with her smartphone.
GBO: I use hearing aids. I use a walker. The walker helps me when I shop. I can carry a lot of bags. I hang them on my walker. People pestered me to get a walker. I think it is wise to wait until you really need a walker before getting one. You become dependent on your walker. I could not manage to carry my groceries without my walker.
I prefer to use a cane. I have a beautiful cane. I like my cane. I have had hip and knee surgery. After my surgery I decided to get a cane. There are flowers on my cane.
IB: I have a cane. My doctor prescribed the cane, so I obtained it for free. We buy technology such as canes and walkers. We buy them because we want nicer versions. In Sweden, you obtain technical aids from your doctor or from your municipal care organization. The devices are almost free or charge. You pay up to a fixed sum every year. This is a low sum. If you pay the fixed sum, you can obtain all devices that you need.
GB: We can discuss if you always obtain all the devices and all the aids that you need. I have a friend who requested two walkers. She was refused those two walkers. She wanted one robust walker for outside use in the snow. She wanted a smaller walker for use inside her apartment.
I returned the walker I was given for free. I bought my own walker. Look at my walker. I can lift it. It is light. [Gudrun demonstrates. She brings out her walker to the focus group.]
GBO: Those walkers are expensive. You made an investment.
GB: I can carry up to seven bottles of wine with this walker!
SW: Can you use the walker with thin wheels outside in the snow?
GB: If it is that snowy I do not go outside. There is no reason for me to leave the house when I cannot walk on the streets. Most Swedish cities are not accessible to the elderly in the winter. Too much snow and ice on the pavement prevents the elderly from leaving their houses.
Södermanland County Council hands out two types of walkers: one with large wheels and one with smaller wheels. Rules vary from county to county because regional governments are autonomous. The number of aids that you can obtain from each county varies.
GBO: The design of certain walkers can hurt your shoulders. I experience pain in my shoulders because of the way I walk and what I carry. I never experienced pain in my shoulders before. I have experienced pain in all other parts of my body before. I never suffered pain in my shoulders before.
You will soon be able to read the entire interview, posted on the ACCESS Health website here.