Social Support Enhances Healthcare Utilisation by Older Adults

Research unveiled at Annual ROSA Symposium on Successful Ageing highlights that social and physical context influence the healthcare utilisation patterns of older adults
By the SMU Corporate Communications team

Singapore, 1 November 2022 (Tuesday) – SMU’s Centre for Research on Successful Ageing (ROSA) has found that it is crucial to think of ‘health capital’ not just in biomedical terms, but also in terms of building the social resources and resilience of Singaporeans as a means of supporting their healthcare needs. The findings, unveiled and debated at the annual ROSA Symposium on Successful Ageing, highlight the importance of closely studying a whole-of-society approach in enabling preventive approaches to healthcare.

“Because a long lifespan may not equate to a high quality of life, it’s important to examine how we can improve healthspan. Given Singapore’s rapidly ageing population, we can’t afford to let this discussion take a backseat. We hope that understanding and deploying psychosocial interventions, as a whole-of-society approach, can speak about the need to understand the interplay of emotional and physical health, and to ultimately enhance the effectiveness of Healthier SG,” said Professor Paulin Straughan, Director, ROSA.

Healthcare utilisation

Healthier SG is the Singapore Ministry of Health’s multi-year strategy to transform the way that healthcare is delivered, by shifting the emphasis from reactively caring for those who are already sick, to proactively preventing individuals from falling ill.

Findings from ROSA’s latest study suggest that social factors can and do work to influence healthcare utilisation by older adults. Physical healthcare accessibility is important in encouraging middle-aged and older adults to visit a doctor when in need of health advice, but social support is equally key. ROSA’s research suggests that having strong and intimate social networks is an important factor in encouraging older adults to visit a doctor when in need of healthcare advice.

According to Associate Professor Ding Yew Yoong, Executive Director, Geriatric Education and Research Institute, preventing functional decline among older adults in the COVID-19 era requires targeted efforts to strengthen both intrinsic capacity and extrinsic environments.

“One unexpected outcome of the COVID-19 pandemic is that it has foregrounded the crucial role of supporting environments, such as social relationships, health-social services, and public policies, in promoting the well-being of older persons. A whole-of-society approach is needed to tailor these supports to the unique needs of our older population, in addition to developing and maintaining their physical and mental capacities. Together, this will go a long way in advancing healthy ageing in Singapore,” said Associate Professor Ding.  

The Singapore Life Panel (SLP): A treasure trove of data on Singapore’s older adults

ROSA’s research uses data from the Singapore Life Panel®, a population representative monthly survey of Singaporeans aged 56-75 (inclusive) that has been conducted since 2015. The SLP has an average response rate of about 7,200 respondents per month and is web-based.

By 2050, almost one in two individuals in Singapore is expected to be aged 65 and above. ROSA’s long-term studies serve to uncover findings that shed light on the optimal ways to best provide for the well-being of older adults in Singapore and promote successful ageing.

Housed in SMU, ROSA’s research underscores SMU’s strategic priority area of Sustainable Living. Through this area of focus, the University seeks to drive solutions in managing climate change and sustainable city living, enhancing quality of life.

The Annual ROSA Symposium on Successful Ageing is a platform which convenes members from academia, government and the philanthropic sector, who are working together to address the societal challenge and opportunity that ageing represents.

Themed "Advancing Healthy Ageing – Nurturing the Health Capital of Older Adults", the 2022 hybrid event covered topics on improving the intrinsic capacity and extrinsic environments of older adults, the importance of wider care and social context and adequate income insurance to deal with unexpected health shocks that low SES workers may face. For the first time, 40 members from ROSA’s Singapore Life Panel® attended the Symposium as well.

The Symposium was made possible with the generous support of The Ngee Ann Kongsi.