Taking a Cue from Lee Kuan Yew on Aging Well

Mr. Lee celebrating his seventy seventh birthday with his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, on September 16, 2000. (Photo: Edward Wray, Associated Press)

Mr. Lee celebrating his seventy seventh birthday with his wife, Kwa Geok Choo, on September 16, 2000. (Photo: Edward Wray, Associated Press)

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.”

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About andrewphua

Andrew is a program coordinator at ACCESS Health International. He blogs about aging related news and issues.

One response to “Taking a Cue from Lee Kuan Yew on Aging Well”

  1. Sofia Widén says :

    Interesting thoughts on how architecture and common areas can reduce isolation!

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