Ageing society: How prepared are we?

Ageing society: How prepared are we?

It's an issue that everyone is at ease talking about but which few people fully think through. "Ageing society" can be an alarming term, more depressing to the mood than "political crisis" or "flood disaster". When a populace grows "too old", problems cascade into virtually every sector - from the smallest unit, the family, to the biggest, the government.

Someone on a TV show mentioned our "ageing society" a few days ago, but the discussion quickly moved on to "more important" matters. One thing about age is that it's never the biggest issue until the crisis reaches a certain point, which it will.

Public transportation, housing, healthcare, labour and employment benefits, business strategies, education and much more will be all severely affected.

Diplomacy becomes a whole new game. Ageing Thai - and Singaporean - diplomats will find themselves negotiating with younger counterparts from elsewhere in Southeast Asia.

The populations of all of our other neighbours are ageing far less rapidly.

How much longer might Thai athletes maintain their level of superiority at the SEA Games? Should smartphones and TV sets come with hearing aids?

Instead of promising computer tablets during election campaigns, political parties might soon be pledging to build "a daycare centre for the elderly in every tambon".

Singapore is aware of the inevitability and over the years has introduced policies that raised eyebrows or drew chuckles overseas, yet nevertheless addressed the issue. Thailand is not too far behind Singapore in the unenviable progress into an ageing society but, compared with the Singaporeans, we are all but complacent. Recent mentioning of the issue in the news is welcomed, but this is an issue that demands more than fleeting attention.

We need to think this problem through seriously. In about 20 years, more than 20 per cent of the Thai population will be elderly - one in five Thais. These people will need care and support from their families as well as the state. There will be those fortunate enough to be able to help themselves, but the majority will depend heavily on society's largesse. Luck notwithstanding, everyone must be prepared for sweeping change.

There will come a time when questions like whether the Senate should be elected or appointed are of substantially less significance than whether a senior-citizen bill warrants approval. The young political activists of tomorrow might not be able to stage overnight rallies because so many will have more pressing demands at home - caring for their parents. Count on the text fonts of newspapers getting bigger, the better for old people to read. Healthy-food restaurants will outnumber fast-food outlets. Food vendors on the street will have to offer less spicy and more easily digested dishes.

The Buddhist sermons on TV, which so few people today watch, might be in for a ratings boost as ageing viewers contemplate death and the afterlife.

How prepared are we? There is the school of thought that ageing is a natural process deserving of no worry. Society will adapt when the time comes, such as accommodating your parents on the ground floor of your home when they're no longer fit enough to climb stairs.

The other line of thinking is that we must begin preparing now, because there will be less fortunate parents and grandparents who don't have children taking care of them.

There will also be families with one or more ageing members whose needs require the expensive renovation of the bathroom, for example, or perhaps even hiring a personal caregiver. How many citizens have thought these matters through? Surely now is the time to begin.

More about

Your daily good stuff - AsiaOne stories delivered straight to your inbox
By signing up, you agree to our Privacy policy and Terms and Conditions.