(Left) Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay. (Above) Elderly and retirees attend the talk “Understanding the ageing process” at Church of Christ the King on Mar 1.
Photos by Darren Boon and Arthur Goh

Don’t let cognitive abilities define your twilight years, says expert

SINGAPORE – Win* is a single elderly woman who devoted her youth and time to active service in church. But as age caught up with her, Win realised she grew tired more easily, and was not able to be as active in church.

Through prayer, however, Win came to realise that God does not need her to be physically active, and that she was no less loved by God for not being able to serve. Instead, she decided to “rest in God”.

“This process is sacramental. Win is listening to her body, and prayerfully working through what God wants her to do. In all of this, Win is ... growing into Christ,” said Professor Elizabeth MacKinlay, speaking to 160 mid-life adults and elderly gathered at Church of Christ the King for the Mar 1 talk on “Understanding the Ageing Process”.

Professor MacKinlay is a registered nurse and Director of the Centre for Ageing and Pastoral Studies at St Mark’s National Theological Centre in Canberra, and author of Spiritual Growth and Care in the Fourth Age of Life.

In the course of her research, Professor MacKinlay has interviewed many elderly, including Win.

She recounted how another elderly woman, embittered by her husband’s death, found it hard to go to church, and even declared she would take her own life if she should one day lose her cognitive abilities.

Professor MacKinlay criticised the materialistic attitude of society which values a person’s cognitive abilities, and associates ageing with burden and disease. She encouraged the audience not to conform to society’s values which instils the fear of ageing, and challenged them to be free of being defined by their cognitive abilities.

Growth is still possible in later life, said Professor MacKinlay, not physical growth, but psycho-social and spiritual development, such as the ability to transcend losses and death, which helps the elderly to overcome vulnerability, isolation, and fear.

“It’s not all about activity, but journeying into what we’re meant to be,” she said.

The talk was the second of three workshops held Feb 28, Mar 1 and 2, on the spirituality of ageing which launched the Dignity of the Elderly project organised by the Singapore Pastoral Institute, Family Life Society, and Caritas Singapore Community Council.

Professor MacKinlay’s Feb 28 talk held at the Catholic Welfare Services auditorium also discussed dementia, and how individuals affected by this disease can still understand their essence of being.

Individuals need to identify the ultimate meaning of life, and to find appropriate ways to respond, she said to the audience that included the elderly, caregivers, health workers, and those from pastoral ministries.

She suggested that parishes form ‘spiritual reminiscence’ groups to assist participants to find meaning in the present, and to develop strategies to accept changes of later life, including loss of significant relationships and increasing disability.

In her talks, Professor MacKinlay highlighted the importance of interaction and communication between the young and old.

“The church shouldn’t mirror the society around them by having age-segregated groups,” she said. “I think older people have a wisdom and knowledge about the continuity of the faith, and a life journey to communicate to young people. Likewise, they can nurture young people.”

Father Jacob Ong, CSsR, who attended the Mar 1 talk, told CatholicNews that parishes should not place elderly on the fringe, but rather, be user-friendly to them. He also put forward the idea of parishes hiring a pastoral coordinator for the elderly.

Father Jacob recounted his experience in an Australian parish where the elderly are involved in art and craft, and the youth will set up a stall monthly for the elderly to sell their work.

“The elderly have undeveloped gifts and talents they can contribute to the church. We, as priests, don’t want to just see them at [the Sacrament of the Anointing of the Sick],” Father Jacob said.

He added that Professor MacKinlay’s talk, though enlightening and sets the direction for a start, must have continuity and be followed up on.

* Name has been changed
Additional reporting by Laura Rebecca Jonathan
By Darren Boon
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