Improving health outcomes and well-being of older people
The contribution of team members to a research project can be taken for granted, with seasoned leaders getting most of the attention.
A recent exception is Micah Tan, a research associate at the Center for Research on Successful Aging (ROSA) at Singapore Management University (SMU). For his collaborative work at ROSA, Tan was awarded the first 2022 Research Staff Excellence Award.
Winning this award gave me a strong sense of accomplishment and inspired me to want to do more, both for the EMS community but also more generally in terms of contributing to the health and well-being of older people. .”
Micah Tan, Research Associate, Center for Research on Successful Aging (ROSA), Singapore Management University
Tan was drawn to a career in research because of his interest in people.
“From an early age, I enjoyed interacting with people and learning about different cultures, and I found that conducting social science research was a perfect way for me to put that interest to use,” says- he.
Tan’s work has focused on older adults, which may seem surprising to a relatively young academic.
“A lot of my motivation for wanting to do research on older people comes from my own personal experiences,” he says. “Growing up, I watched my own parents go through the transition from full-time work to retirement and it got me thinking about what that transition meant and what life in retirement should be like.
“Additionally, Singapore is facing a rapidly aging population and it is becoming increasingly important for us to address the social issues arising from this demographic trend.”
An article co-authored by Tan, which caught the attention of the awards jury, was written at the start of the COVID pandemic and identified that a key behavioral barrier leading to vaccine hesitancy among older residents was the trust, or lack thereof, in government messages.
“One thing to clarify is that our research found that a large majority of Singaporeans still had great faith in government throughout the pandemic. However, for the few who did not, I think that a key factor that may have led to this was the increase in alternative narratives in the media,” Tan says.
“[Government] messaging can sometimes be drowned out by the huge flood of other perspectives and stories that can easily be found on social media and the internet. When you’re faced with so many different accounts and don’t have a high level of trust in more reliable sources, you can easily get lost.
“A key factor that has been identified by researchers to shape the levels of trust people hold is message consistency.”
The title of ROSA raises the question of how to define “aging well”.
“I think an important dimension of successful aging is staying well-integrated within your community, even later in life,” Tan says. “It’s not just about staying in touch with your friends and family, but should also be about being able to contribute meaningfully to your community in some way.
“I think we all want to feel like we’re part of something bigger than ourselves. [and] we want to feel valued by our communities. If we can help more seniors find meaningful ways to participate in their communities, I think we’ll do a lot to help more people age successfully. »
In a ROSA brief co-authored by Tan, the well-being of older people emerges as a desirable outcome. How can such a broad, even amorphous term as well-being be quantified as a research topic?
“That’s a great question, but unfortunately there’s no right answer (yet),” says Tan. “The primary goal of ROSA is to develop a holistic measure of well-being of older adults that can be operationalized and used in Singapore as, currently, no such measure exists.
“At ROSA, we pay attention to the four main dimensions of well-being – economic, psychological, social and mental – and strive to create a holistic measure of well-being that can cover all four dimensions.”
The same dossier highlights economic expectations as an indicator of the well-being of seniors during a financially difficult time.
“Research found that people are often aware of their own financial situation and are better able to estimate how much they will be affected by a particular financial challenge, compared to crude estimates at the population level.
“Being negatively affected by a financial challenge will certainly have negative impacts on other aspects of well-being, such as poor mental health due to the stress of not having enough.”
The rising cost of living is a global problem. The latest in a series of ROSA briefs focuses on its impact on older Singaporeans.
“We found that health care is a top concern for older people, and for good reason. We asked our respondents to try to get a sense of why this was so, and many of our respondents saw a negative health shock as one of the few life events that could potentially wipe out all of their retirement savings,” Tan says.
“This is due to the immense costs that could be incurred if one were diagnosed with cancer, for example. The costs of treating such a disease can be extreme, even with health insurance, and could cripple someone financially. even though he had tried his best to prepare for such a scenario.
“For this reason, many seniors we spoke to mentioned how they feared the most that such an event would occur and often cited health care as a major financial concern.”
In its summary, the brief recommends targeted support for those experiencing more severe financial hardship, such as seniors of low socioeconomic status, as well as those who are unemployed, laid off or on sick leave. Financial support should focus on basic necessities – utilities, groceries and healthcare needs – as respondents were most concerned about the affordability of these items. And the government needs effective communication of its mitigation measures.
Tan proposes that his next project is also about health issues.
“I have a growing interest in researching the life course factors that shape health outcomes in older adults. Specifically, examining how conditions early in life can shape health later in life. life,” he said.
“Studies have shown that exposure to stressful environments early in life can have long-lasting and permanent effects on your physiology that make you more vulnerable to certain health conditions later in life.”
Singapore Management University