A 2017 report revealed that Singapore’s population would swell to 6.34 million by 2030, out of which an estimated 1.8 million people would be aged 65 or older — making up about 28% of the population.
By 2050, almost 50% of the population within that demographic would be 65 or older.
If Singapore’s persistently low birth rate continues, the dependency ratio will show greater signs of equalising. This means that instead of two adults supporting a single elderly person or child, this ratio would reach 1:1 by 2050, with 100 adults supporting about 95 children or elderly persons.
These figures paint a sobering picture and raise pertinent questions about the eldercare sector in Singapore.
While we have made positive strides in ensuring the growth of the sector, whether through building better infrastructure or offering quality training, Singapore is by no means a market leader on a global or regional stage.
More importantly, demand for eldercare services will continue to soar through the years as Singapore continues to grapple with low birth-rates. So, what can we do to enhance service standards or foster a conducive environment to build a vibrant local eldercare sector?
Lessons on eldercare from Taiwan
As part of their research in Gerontology, a group of SUSS PhD students embarked on a study trip to Taiwan where they visited several key eldercare institutions in the country and studied innovative policies put in place to grow the industry. Here are some of their key observations:
- Get more youths involved in the eldercare sector
The team observed a strong presence of young people - both as staff and volunteers - serving in Taiwanese nursing homes and dementia centres. For example, at HonDao Senior Citizens Welfare Foundation, the average age of the volunteers is 30 years old.
The significant presence of youths in the industry can be attributed to the high education standards in the senior care and gerontology fields.
The career pathways in these fields have also been structured to groom and attract Taiwanese youth to serve, in particular, at universities and vocational schools. Continuing efforts are also made to enhance the remuneration and professionalisation of the long-term care sector.
- Drive volunteerism with new initiatives
At HonDao, some 4,200 seniors receive quality care from about 1,600 volunteers who help to run the organisation along with 300 staff members making it possible for the centre to deliver on their service promises.
A unique volunteerism programme called “Time Dollar-Mutual Support” may have contributed to the high level of volunteerism. Implemented in 2006, the programme leverages the concept of paying it forward to encourage volunteers to offer their time in return for assistance from the organisation in the future. Due to its success, this concept is slowly being introduced and implemented in some senior care centres in Taiwan.
- Build vibrancy in eldercare education
Medical institutions such as Tzu Chi Hualien General Hospital are also paying closer attention to their approach in patient care. To cater to seniors who tend to be early risers, the clinics at Tzu Chi operate from 5 am.
These early operating hours help to relieve the seniors from long queues and allow their caregivers to accompany them, while minimising disruption to their work routine.
Tzu Chi’s hospital-and-university training approach could be a contributing factor to the staff’s willingness to go the extra mile for their patients. The university not only focuses on medical knowledge but also places much emphasis on moral values and the spirit to serve.
Its strong curriculum also incorporates compulsory volunteer work, including overseas missions and community integration, to inculcate in its medical doctors a strong spirit of service.
Building a robust senior care sector in Singapore
While Singapore and Taiwan are two different societies, some aspects of the latter’s care models are certainly worth exploring to see if they can be adapted in the Singapore context.
The students’ observations have further established the essential role that education plays in ensuring that service standards are enhanced and maintained in the eldercare sector.
One way we can boost interest in this area is by developing educational pathways and career paths for gerontologists. It will certainly give young people the impetus to join the growing senior care sector and become a vital source of support for an ageing population.
This article has been adapted from an earlier report: "Enhancing standards in the senior-care sector" by Lin Sng Hock, a PhD student in Gerontology, S R Nathan School of Human Development, Singapore University of Social Sciences (SUSS).