Singapore 'not ready' for ageing society

Singapore 'not ready' for ageing society

SINGAPORE - A lot more work needs to be done before Singapore is ready for an ageing society.

And those likely to be hit hardest by the problems to come will be the people shouldering the double burdens of having to look after their children and elderly parents at the same time.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this group had the strongest claim to being called the "sandwiched class", as he gave his assessment on the issue of ageing and care of the elderly.

It was a subject, he said, that was not urgent for many.

"I think we don't realise how quickly this is going to happen," he said. "It's going to happen to my generation, because if you are in your 50s looking after an 80-year-old, that's fine. If you are in your 60s looking after some people who may be coming to 90, that's very, very tough."

The Government, on its part, tries to help by giving subsidies for intermediate and long-term care and retro-fitting flats with elder-friendly features like grab bars and non-slip floors.

But other solutions - getting more manpower, having younger Singaporeans and building up elderly infrastructure - will be harder to pull off, said Mr Lee.

With a rising need for more nurses and caregivers, Singapore will need to get these workers from overseas.

While those who need maids or a place in a nursing home will accept this and understand the need for immigration, others may not feel the same way.

Said Mr Lee: "When... it's other people's maids and other people's nursing homes, and you meet them not in the nursing home taking care of your parent but down along Orchard Road or Botanic Gardens where they are gathered on weekends, then unfortunately your attitude is different and there's a certain disconnect."

Another part of the solution to mitigate against an ageing society is to produce more babies, so that eventually there will be more younger folk to take care of older ones.

But this is arguably even more difficult, with Mr Lee giving Singapore a "B" for effort in this department - but a "C minus" for outcomes.

Even building more nursing homes can be problematic, as some people do not want these near their homes. This is where MPs, said Mr Lee, have a role in helping residents understand and accept these facilities.

"Before very long, you will be in that age group and you will need to have some place to go. Do you want to be chased somewhere else because your neighbours don't want you?" he said.

As for older Singaporeans, they have a role to play too - to keep active.

The Prime Minister, who is 60, urged older people to stay active and engaged, rather than just sit at home "staring blankly at the TV and gradually growing less active and less connected to the world".

He said: "We have seen the senior citizens who are involved in our taiji or in our active ageing groups. There's a bounce in their step and a certain lift in their smile and in their expression and animation, which really warms the heart that we're doing the right thing. I hope more kids will encourage their parents to do that."

jeremyau@sph.com.sg


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