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Raising An Ageing Population (Part 2)


Speakers Names: Dr. Kelvin Tan, Wong Kai Wen, Vivian Lim

Click here for Part 1.
Click here for Part 3.

Vivian01:00:02:00Welcome to the SUSS series of podcasts where we explore ideas, solutions, and collaborations that are making a difference in the lives of individuals, families, communities, and beyond.
Vivian01:00:16:00This series features guests who will discuss how we can achieve social impact for the greater good, no matter how big or small.
Vivian01:00:27:00Previously on the SUSS series of podcast.
Kaiwen01:00:32:00So at the national level, we want to make sure there are enough hospitals, healthcare facilities, daycare centres, for our seniors, that's a very important issue. And secondly, at the town level, when we plan new towns, like for example, Punggol or Sengkang and the newer towns, we want to make sure that the amenities and facilities are conveniently located to the residents, literally at the doorstep.
Kaiwen01:00:51:00So take, for example, Kampung Admiralty, it’s already planned with the objective in mind, to make all these community facilities, healthcare, public spaces, easily accessible for the seniors. And finally, we cannot forget at the building level.
Kaiwen01:01:05:00In terms of ramps, hand railings and all that. So together we want to see how we can adopt a comprehensive approach to making our city age-friendly. And that in turn helps the communities to develop the heartware within this highly conducive environment.
Vivian01:01:22:00So how you're solving that issue on ageing is just one facet, but looking at it from a multi-generational, and even from different facets to come together, I'm just really wondering, all that you've shared, both of you have been working on for the last couple of years and how URA has been working on for many, many years as well.
Vivian01:01:39:00What types of work through all your experiences stood out most to you?
Kelvin01:01:43:00For SUSS, we believe very much in applied learning. So the gerontology courses that we are conducting, being the first in Singapore, 11 years ago. We have groomed many talents. Most of them are working adults who would like to know more about ageing in place, policies, practitioners, knowing how they could actually help to advocate the statement of gerontology.
Kelvin01:02:09:00So in teaching the courses, we provide opportunities for students to interact with the ground.
Kelvin01:02:15:00They interviewed families that have seniors and would like to know how these seniors are coping with some of the stresses that are happening, especially in a pandemic.
Kelvin01:02:26:00A lot of seniors have to stay at home. They face loneliness, depression, et cetera. So what we are doing in SUSS as an educational institution, is to create opportunities for our students to interact, to come up with new ideas that will improve the quality of living and wellbeing of the seniors.
Kelvin01:02:46:00For example, we have a module called Impact Startup Challenge. When the students go through this whole process of learning, they pick up the problem statements from the ground and look at innovative ways to solve these problem statements. It could be technology, it could be a process.
Kelvin01:03:02:00It could be at systems level, where they could look to create innovative ideas that will make a difference in the lives of our seniors. So these are really important because we want to encourage the younger generation to empathise with what's happening on the ground and therefore be more connected in some ways through their new knowledge.
Vivian01:03:23:00Kaiwen, I see you nodding in agreement.
Kaiwen01:03:24:00Yeah, totally. I was just reflecting on that. Even as URA and other agencies, we make plans, we make policies, we do research. I think at the end of the day co-creation is very important. Getting the buy-in of the seniors. Hearing what they want is equally important.
Kaiwen01:03:40:00If not more, to get their buy-in on the various designs that we have.
Kelvin01:03:44:00The social services agency organisation called AWWA.
Kelvin01:03:47:00They came to us and said they want to do a hackathon with our students. And we're pretty excited because the hackathon means that our students got an opportunity to work with them, to get mentorship from them on the pain points they are facing by their frontline workers.
Kelvin01:04:00:00And who are these frontline workers? These are the caregivers who knock on the doors of their clients who are elderly staying alone, requiring support because they are on their own. And our students can actually work on these problem statements, for example, to see how we can interact through some of the new ideas, some of the new technologies to know how they are feeling. How to bring services to them, how to schedule the different services that they will need in their home.
Kelvin01:04:29:00And even for wheelchair-bound seniors. We want to encourage them to go out, breathe some fresh air and be comfortable. Not worried about their safety issues. So we're looking at all these interesting problem statements. Yes, exactly. To improve the quality of living and well-being for the seniors that AWWA has to take care of.
Kelvin01:04:49:00Because this is really part of the whole service. So students came up with interesting ideas that really impressed some of the judges that we invited from the industry.
Kelvin01:04:58:00And so we are creating opportunities for innovation. To be introduced to this whole silver sector.
Vivian01:05:05:00It’s like what you said about applied learning. Looking at real-life issues that a social service agency feels and experiences on a day-to-day basis and getting the students who eventually would pick up a career in startups.
Kelvin01:05:20:00They can even do a startup. That is what we want them to do right? Then they can have pathways to different additional resources, whether it is from Enterprise Singapore or even one of the corporate partners, Alibaba, that is really to give extra support for these ideas to take flight. And that’s very important.
Vivian01:05:33:00Which is true. And now you're looking at the whole ageing population with all these multi-disciplinary solutions that can support and solve this problem.
Vivian01:05:41:00It's so interesting to tackle this problem of ageing, right? It's also about co-creation like what Kai Wen you were saying. It's about involving different stakeholders. I never knew that the students have to go out for applied learning.
Vivian01:05:54:00And when Kaiwen, you mentioned it makes sense because they're talking to the seniors that are using the facilities.
Vivian01:06:00:00So how can you build a neighbourhood, a community that they are happy to live in. So it's not tackling an issue just because ageing is a problem. But looking at it from a holistic point of view, how can we as a community step in to help change their lives for the better. In this train of thoughts as well. I'm just wondering.
Vivian01:06:19:00What gaps do you still see? As we work towards tackling the problem of ageing.
Kelvin01:06:24:00The changing of mindset is very important for everyone to embrace the new normal, especially post-pandemic. This is where we will like the different generations as well as seniors to feel that they actually can do more. They are not just the takers of the fruits of their labour. Because they’re in this stage of their lives. Retirement, or easing off a bit, enjoying themselves. They can also give back to society and the community.
Kelvin01:06:50:00So we see that the gap there is how do we tap on the seniors as a form of social capital, to help other seniors even, or to help their families more. Because if they can be healthy mentally and physically, they will actually be able to contribute more to society.
Kelvin01:07:06:00So I think this is the part where we feel that there's a gap. How to enable it, how to create more of such opportunities for them. We can learn from other countries. So I think one of the countries is Japan. They are already a super-ageing society. They are a pretty closed society.
Kelvin01:07:21:00However, on the other hand, they work very closely as a community, where they try to empower the seniors to enjoy what they're doing. For example, gardening, cooking. And they don't just cook for themselves. They actually try to share with their neighbours and create a kind of friendship and trust, which is very, very important.
Kelvin01:07:41:00So that, like I mentioned earlier, wherever there's a shout-out for help, they can be there to help each other. So such is the kind of community that we would like to encourage and therefore create a mindset shift in Singapore.
Kaiwen01:07:54:00Yes, actually Kelvin’s point about mindset shift really resonates with me, because while government agencies we can have all the beautiful plans, policies, and all that, but who implements them on the ground now? It’s actually our contractors, essential workers, architects, and all those who actually translate all these guidelines into built form, things that you see on the ground.
Kaiwen01:08:13:00And a lot of times, while we can have all these design codes, it's the mindset that they use the approach in terms of implementing all these guidelines. If they take it as just another guideline, they may actually implement it in a very arbitrary way that actually doesn't meet the objectives. So just take a very well-known example, that of ramps I think you see around Singapore.
Kaiwen01:08:32:00They promote wheelchair accessibility and all that. But a lot of times we got feedback from residents that, oh, they are too steep you know. You need a lot of energy, a lot of strength to push the senior up, or they're just too long, like for example overhead bridges.
Kaiwen01:08:44:00By the time you wheel the senior up, you might as well just cross the road at the surface or jaywalk even. So I think that's really the key challenge that we face is how do we work together as a society, with all the different stakeholders, and also making them think that this is not something you just you need to comply with, but there’s a bigger reason for doing that, which is really to include everybody in society.
Kaiwen01:09:05:00Our seniors, persons with special needs, mobility needs, and all that. So I think that mindset shift is very, very important. Another key area that we perhaps need to address is that usually, we look at seniors as individuals. That means like, oh, ageing population. Oh, it’s the old person there, sitting on the bench.
Kaiwen01:09:24:00But we forget that this senior is part of a bigger ecosystem. It's part of a family, it's part of a community. So how do we better support, let's say, the caregivers, the family, in caring for these seniors? I think this is a very important issue as Kelvin said, we have more and more seniors. In fact, in less than 10 years in 2030, we will have 900,000 seniors, aged over 65.
Kaiwen01:09:45:00So how can we better enable our families, our community to better care for them? So in this respect, I think there's a lot that we can do. And actually, another thing that I don't have the numbers on hand, but increasingly there are more and more seniors who are living alone, due to lifestyle choices to decide, to remain single or they choose not to have children.
Kaiwen01:10:04:00So who are the people to support them? So I think from the agency's perspective, we want to see how we can then link back to the built environment again. How do we provide enough daycare centres, amenities, services, and programmes, for example, to support all these seniors, living in a community to make them feel connected to society and not isolated?
Kaiwen01:10:22:00This is something that I believe that we can work together on.
Vivian01:10:26:00So I see this field of work in gerontology evolving. Because the target audience needs are evolving as well. Both of you talk about mindset shifts. Kelvin, what mindset shift do you see from the students when they start the first semester in their class? I'm just really interested. For the students who are joining in and understanding this, all this must be overwhelming for them.
Vivian01:10:47:00So what kind of mindset shifts have you seen from the students?
Kelvin01:10:51:00For the students who come to study Gerontology, they are coming from different disciplines and backgrounds. And that's very important because gerontology is about understanding ageing, not just from one perspective, clinical or nursing, but really everything.
Kelvin01:11:08:00It could be technology, it could be business, it could be finance. And this is very important because when they came in, some of them didn't even know the word gerontology well at all, or even pronounce it. It's very tough for them.
Kelvin01:11:23:00Exactly. That’s the point, right? So, the good thing is they came in with an open mind that they are here to learn, not just from the academics, but between students. They form groups to learn from each other because most of them are working adults.
Kelvin01:11:38:00So they have different backgrounds, different exposure, different personal working experiences. So it enriches the whole learning journey for most of them.
Kelvin01:11:47:00But we want them to be able to also appreciate the work of other countries. So that's why our studies require them to do a literature review, to understand what other countries are doing in terms of best practices.
Kelvin01:11:58:00And critique constructively, what would be useful for Singapore? Because this is very important. In Singapore, we are a very multicultural country. We have to be sensitive to different religions, different races. So they learn a lot of these aspects from a multi-dimensional perspective and then after the first year.
Kelvin01:12:17:00They could then pick the different majoring tracks, whether it's practitioner or research, to further deepen their knowledge and apply that to the community. So I feel that they are quite a changed person in a very good way after their education here with SUSS because they could immediately apply along the way as they learn.
Kelvin01:12:37:00And, in a sense, you know, even the family members would benefit from their knowledge. This is where we feel that they have got a lot more than when they first entered our module.
Kaiwen01:12:47:00In fact, I can totally agree with that. I mean I’m also a part-time student doing the Masters of Gerontology programme. Actually, it benefitted me a lot in terms of knowledge. Ageing is not an abstract thing anymore.
Kaiwen01:12:57:00It's not just part of your work, but something that you can really empathise with. It actually enhances your knowledge. And you can understand why seniors see things from a certain angle.
Kaiwen01:13:06:00And actually, it really helps me through my work - I can also help to influence other agencies, the different stakeholders I’ve worked with. Why is age-friendly design such an important issue? And it's true with all these knowledge that I have, I can sort of better put up a case for why you do certain things or not. And personally, I’m also a caregiver, and through the knowledge that I gain, I can learn to better manage, understand, how my care recipients are feeling, and all that. And what kind of services that she can access.
Vivian01:13:34:00So if i were to really summarise from our conversation– Kaiwen, you mentioned and spoke a lot about how there can be more elderly who are living alone due to various circumstances.
Vivian01:13:45:00While, Dr Kelvin, you mentioned that we can learn from the example of other countries. And really, understanding the needs of elderly and their caregivers should be a key element in urban planning for us here.
Voiceover01:113:59:00You’ve been listening to the SUSS series of podcasts. The next part of this episode will be available at Stay tuned!


The Authors
Wong Kai Wen
Wong Kai Wen
Dr Kelvin Tan
Dr Kelvin Tan
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