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Ageing with a sense of purpose has been scientifically proven to improve our overall wellbeing. So, how to find one’s purpose and to turn it into reality as we deal with the challenges of ageing?

Amy Chien-Yu Wang
Published on
Thursday, January 17, 2019 - 17:20
File size
6 min 46 sec

Serge Voloschenko was born in the Year of the Dog in China 72 years ago. He was an economist who became a podiatrist in his middle age. Nowadays, Voloschenko may not be employed in the traditional sense.

However, as the president of the Russian Benevolent Association and an active volunteer with various organisations, he is always busy contributing to the community. His secret to finding purpose is to keep moving.

“You don’t move back and there’s only one way and that’s move forward because a second in your day could be terribly long. Therefore we should measure not as times, not like clocks or digital watches or whatever, but in terms of what you get out of it. To me, it’s like the body regenerates okay but your mind and those things regenerate from you being active whether you’re helping others or not, but you’re actually thinking about it.”

As a driven 72-year-old, Voloschenko continues to find meaning by giving back to the community of the country he has called home for the past 60 years.

To him, age is just a number that doesn’t define who he is, nor limits his choices in life.

“Very often, it turns out to be a friend or usually a mentor or someone introduces you to something and if you feel it’s worthwhile and you get involved. It’s sort of half imitation but half wanting to do it, but in a sense, that very often you do it; it becomes a duty but in a good sense until you become committed to it. You do it the best you can. It’s a contribution rather than say, ‘oh, I’m going to move mountains. I think you’re chipping away things. It actually becomes a sense of direction.”

Various scientific studies have shown that ageing with purpose often leads to a more active lifestyle and improves one’s overall wellbeing.

Professor Henry Brodaty, an internationally renowned expert on dementia and mental health from the University of New South Wales’ Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing explains.

“People who are more active physically have better physical health in a number of ways. They have less osteoporosis. They have less loss of muscle mass which means that they’re more likely to fall and more likely to suffer fractures. They’re less likely to have heart problems, high blood pressure, have better mood, have better memory and cognitive abilities. So keeping active is really important for health in a number of ways. Similarly, people who are more cognitively engaged in other words who use their brain more are more likely to keep their brain in working order so you know 'use it or lose it’ is a really important principle.”

According to Professor Brodaty, life after retirement can turn out to be the golden age with more freedom to follow your true calling.

Finding one’s direction comes down to what matters the most to each individual.

“Purposeful ageing is not one size fits all. For some people, purpose is having relationships. For most people, it’s having love in their life. For some people, it’s having some sort of goal. For some people, it’s enjoying the moment. So it really depends on who you are and what is important to you.”

Everyone knows the importance of living with intention although it’s not necessarily something that we consciously put into regular practice.

Positive ageing advocate Marcus Riley recently released “Booming” - a book on the philosophy for ageing well. Based on his experience in the aged care sector spanning over two decades, Riley believes that regardless of age, anyone can boom in later life since successful ageing is self-defined.

“So each person will have their own vision of what successful ageing looks like for them. It really comes down to three key elements. One is maintaining that sense of positivity and overcoming the negativity that surrounds getting older. The second one is planning and planning helps people retain control as they get older and enable them to spend time on things that’s important to them to be able to have a range of choices in terms of where they’re going to live? What sort of activities they’re going to pursue and who they’re going to spend time with and the third one is purpose.”

Not everyone can feel positive if they happen to be experiencing bereavement or struggling with health problems. But even those with severe physical disability can still light up their life.

It starts with the will for change.

Riley tells the story of a stroke survivor who lived at the nursing home he runs.

Malcom Sinclair had lost his mobility and ability to speak after suffering a series of strokes. Wheelchair-bound at a nursing home, Sinclair was often negative until he was offered a chance to reconnect with his lost passion of swimming with the help of a therapist.

“Malcom transformed from that sort of negative character who really didn’t want to interact with anyone to him becoming a really positive person who was looking to interact with as many people as he could. He would greet people with a really happy disposition. He became very involved in his community where he would take interest in all sorts of different things that were going on and his outlook on life, his positivity was really shining through and that was really due to unlocking the passion in life that he still held within him.”

Professor Brodaty’s research shows that the average number of friends a nursing home resident makes is one.

This means that many may go about their existence without a single friend.

With Australians aged 85 and over, set to triple from under half a million to 1.8 million in 2050.

Professor Brodaty believes it is in our best interest to start gaining more control of our future by prolonging our physical and psychological wellbeing through purposeful living.

"The people who are more active in middle age are going to be the people who are more active in late life as well, of course, if people’s health deteriorates, if you’re in constant pain or you’ve developed dementia or Parkinson’s disease which limits your mobility, then a lot of these things are not able to be done and maybe it’s a matter of tailoring activities within your limits, maybe it’s a short outing once a day. If you loved art, for example, going to a gallery with some friends who could support you or family but having a short one, not thinking of doing two or three activities a day.”