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How Can We Foster Meaningful Ageing?

By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be 65 and above[1]. With the nation having one of the world's highest life expectancies[2], there is a need for a closer look at not only the issue of an ageing population, but the growing importance of meaningful ageing. Ageing may be inevitable, but meaningful ageing is not a given.

According to Professor Mehta, Professor of Gerontology, SUSS S R Nathan School of Human Development, meaningful ageing is different from successful ageing as it goes beyond managing health and ensuring high performance in later years. It encompasses the spirit of the person and fosters a desire to continue contributing to family and society.

With that in mind, how effective is the current system in contributing to meaningful ageing, and what more can be done?

A Work in Progress

Minister for National Development, Desmond Lee, during his term as Minister for Social and Family Development, highlighted the merits of Singapore’s “many helping hands” approach. This involves the individual, family, community and State all coming together to address the needs of the vulnerable, or the elderly in this context. The approach is sound in theory, but needs more work when it comes to successful implementation[3].

For example, individual pieces of information may reside with different agencies and voluntary welfare organisations (VWOs). This leads to each agency only seeing part of the problem, be it housing, financial or healthcare. With no party having the full picture, complications can arise when supporting the elderly.

What is needed is a seamless collaboration among government agencies, social service organisations and charities. These entities can then work towards optimising their collective resources through a coordinated approach, to improve the quality of life for elders more efficiently.

The “many helping hands” approach is still very much a work in progress, with inefficiencies to be smoothened out. Here, we explore some solutions that may be able to help foster meaningful ageing.

Elderly Volunteerism

Elderly volunteerism has many rewards. It allows society to tap on the wealth of talent and experience that these seniors possess, while relieving the volunteer shortage in Singapore, and mainstreaming the idea about ageing as an opportunity. Existing programmes, like The Silver Volunteer Fund, support organisations that develop such elderly volunteerism initiatives.

Elderly volunteerism provides opportunities for the elderly to stay engaged and instills a sense of purpose and fulfillment, while also helping to fend off neuro-degenerative diseases such as dementia[4].

Timebanking

Singapore has a declining total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.1, a historic low for the nation[5]. This means that the elderly will be more dependent on volunteers, nursing homes or community care.

While timebanking cannot influence this dependency, it can alleviate the stigma surrounding it. Timebanking is essentially a pay-it-forward bartering system, where people exchange services for labour-time based credits to be claimed back in the future when they need it, such as community care or nursing home care credits.

How does this contribute to meaningful ageing? Timebanking removes the perception of lost dignity and the stigma associated with receiving community care or staying in nursing homes. The elderly do not have to feel like a burden or embarrassed about being taken care of by someone else, as this is something they have rightfully worked for and earned.

Policy-Making and the Individual

Government policies go a long way towards fostering meaningful ageing. In Singapore, pro-family policies emphasise the importance of strong familial ties and support to help elders experience meaningful ageing. An example is the HDB Proximity Housing Grant, which helps cultivate intergenerational cohesion.

Additionally, Minister for Manpower Josephine Teo recently announced the planned raising of the statutory retirement age to 63 and re-employment age to 68[6]. The opportunity to continue contributing to society provides the benefits of income, a sense of fulfilment, and self-esteem boost for the elderly.

However, for policies to succeed, communities and individuals have to do their part by creating an environment conducive to meaningful ageing. Ageist attitudes and stereotypes need to be dropped, and the elderly should be embraced as an asset rather than a liability.

For example, only 63% of respondents in a poll of 1,052 people in Singapore felt that their workplace valued all employees regardless of age[7]. The policy of raising the retirement and re-employment age cannot effectively contribute to meaningful ageing if these elderly individuals are afforded less training opportunities and relegated to lower-end service work. It could actually have the opposite effect.

Planning for meaningful ageing should take paramount importance, as almost half of Singapore’s population is projected to be at least 65 years old by 2050[8]. With the right attitudes, measures and policies in place, Singapore can provide the perfect environment for meaningful ageing.

This article is an adaptation of the podcast Silver Linings #2.2: Road To Meaningful Ageing. The podcast features Kalyani Mehta, Professor of Gerontology, SUSS S R Nathan School of Human Development, Chan Wing (Senior Centre Manager, PAP Community Foundation) and Alan Wong (Manager of Home Care Services, AWWA), who discuss the importance of assisting caregivers for the elderly. Listen to the podcast here.


[1] Channel News Asia (AUG 2019) Commentary: It is high time for a Ministry on Ageing Issues

[2] Worldometer Life Expectancy by Country and in the World (2021)

[3] Ministry of Social and Family Development Opening Address by Minister Desmond Lee at Social Service Summit 2018

[4] The Straits Times (SEP 2019) Retirees with a sense of purpose do better

[5] Channel News Asia (FEB 2021) Singapore's total fertility rate falls to historic low in 2020

[6] Business Times (MAR 2021) Raising of retirement, re-employment ages will go ahead as planned in 2022

[7] Randstad (JUL 2020) ‘Ageism in the Workplace’ Survey

[8] Today (AUG 2019) Elderly to make up almost half of S’pore population by 2050: United Nations

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