Three decades ago, humans were only expected to live until their 60s. Today, life expectancy has increased to 72.6 years and will continue to go up. According to data from the United Nations – World Population Prospects, the global average life expectancy in 1990 was 64.2 years. In 2019, it was 72.6 years and in 2050 it will be 77.1 years. Medical and technological advancements have enabled humans to live longer, and this is a good thing.However, one of the main implications of a longer lifespan is population ageing. In Malaysia, the population of people aged 60 and over has more than doubled since 2000. It is expected to be an ageing nation by 2030, in which one in six people will be over 60 years old.This is a serious concern especially since healthcare and social systems haven’t advanced in a way to support this ageing. Even though we are living longer than ever, why is it that quality of life does not seem to be keeping up? Physical and mental health factors As one grows older, the body becomes more susceptible to Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs) such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease. With increasing age, there is a higher chance of cancer as well. Existing health data shows that many adult Malaysians are not only unfit but also have low levels of awareness of NCDs, including if they are suffering from one. As such we now have an ageing population which is unhealthy – statistics show 61.3% of Malaysian adults suffer from at least one NCD and is rising over time. It is no surprise that NCDs account for an estimated 73% of deaths in the country.Mental health is another factor that affects the elderly’s quality of life as they age. According to WHO, dementia and depression are the two most common neurological disorders currently affecting older adults globally at 5% and 7%, respectively. The WHO also found that mental health disorders among the elderly are under-identified due to the ongoing stigma and taboo regarding mental health, which makes it challenging for people to speak up especially in Asian culture.The elderly face many mental health risk factors such as chronic pain, reduced mobility, frailty and decline in functional abilities. Combined with the bereavement due to the ongoing loss of friends and loved ones which contribute to negative feelings and low moods, there is a great toll on mental health over time. Social changes brought on by age In most Asian cultures, the young are expected to practise respect and obedience towards their parents. This is the same in Malaysia. However, the rise of westernisation and culture of individualism amongst the younger generation has resulted in family structure changes. The Malaysian culture used to be an intergenerational family living arrangement whereby up to four generations could be living in the same house. Nowadays, adult children prefer their own space and tend to move out from their parents’ home once they get married. With the pressures of higher living costs, young adults are prioritising their careers and businesses more than ever. As the adult children are working more, they may not always have sufficient time and energy to give their elderly parents the proper care they need. These social changes may result in feelings of abandonment and loneliness, which are exacerbated as they lose more of their loved ones, who may be ageing as well. In the olden days when kampung community living was common, the elderly were able to walk to their relatives’ and friends’ houses which were just a stone’s throw away. These days with the improvement of road infrastructure and connectivity, people tend to live further away from each other. The average time taken to get anywhere is half an hour. For an older person, the distance and traffic can add to their already stress-filled lives. Factors like deteriorating eyesight, ever-changing roads and difficulties using navigation technology may affect their ability to stay mobile. This leads to social isolation. Even with the internet, which enables them to stay connected to family and friends, real physical contact — which is vital to maintain health — is still lacking. Quality living in old age So how can we think about increasing the quality of life even as we get older?As usual, living healthily is key. Older folks need to be more diligent in taking care of themselves. As such, engaging in an active lifestyle both physically and mentally can be an effective approach to boosting psychological well-being. Additionally, if the time is right, a move to a retirement village can aid in promoting this active lifestyle as well as encourage socialisation to combat isolation. Retirement villages often offer various group and one-on-one programmes that can increase engagement in physical activity and mental wellness exercises, eating a balanced diet and socialising within a community.We are now living longer than ever into our golden years and we must strive to keep quality of life up. Since ageing is inevitable, active steps must be taken to ensure that we age healthily.It’s great that we are now living longer. But what’s the point if we’re not living these extra years fully? Only if we live well can we say that we are truly alive.