Friday, 2 October 2015

Don't write off everyone over 65 as unproductive

By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2015

Singapore is dancing the cha-cha with the issue of its rapidly ageing population.

An older generation familiar with the dance will know that in the cha-cha, dancers take steps forward and backward, but essentially remain in the same position in spite of the flurry of movements.

So the forward steps are things like the Pioneer Generation Package to acknowledge the contribution of seniors; the move to encourage employers to rehire workers till the age of 65 now, and 67 from 2017; and the increasingly age-friendly infrastructure.

The steps back come in the form of policies that are based on the formula of x number of people aged 65 and older who will need to be supported by working-age adults - based on the assumption that once they reach 65, people turn from being assets to liabilities, draining the nation's resources.

These "old age support ratio" assumptions form the basis of many of Singapore's long-term plans.

Another is the National Health Survey, which looks only at people aged 18 to 69 . Why do people aged 70 years and older fall off the radar, especially when the focus is health?

This is not unique to Singapore. The issue was highlighted in the World Health Organisation's just-released Report On Ageing And Health: "Older people will have to be included in vital statistics and general population surveys."

Yes, people do grow older and will get more chronic ailments and be less physically limber. But as WHO director-general Margaret Chan says: "There is no 'typical' older person."

This is because there is no standard correlation between chronological age and the loss of physical and mental abilities.

With greater focus on keeping healthy and with better medical treatments available, people are generally not just living longer but also maintaining their health for many more years.

A recent news report featured a 105-year-old Japanese man who set a world record for the 100m dash. It took him 42 seconds, against Usain Bolt's 9.58sec record set in 2009.

New world record for Japanese centenarian sprinter
Three cheers for "Golden Bolt" 󾆧🏻󾔗 Japanese centenarian sets world record for 100m sprint
Posted by BBC News on Thursday, September 24, 2015

Still, it was a feat few thought possible for a centenarian. If he can run 100m at age 105, how much more physically able must he have been at age 65, 75, 85 and even 95? Was he a burden to society in the last 40 years of good health?

It depends on whether he had the opportunity to contribute or if he was put out to pasture based purely on his chronological age.

The WHO report, which looked at an ageing world brought on by longer lives coupled with fewer births, says: "One of the challenges to developing a comprehensive response to population ageing is that many common perceptions and assumptions about older people are based on outdated stereotypes.

"This limits the way we conceptualise problems, the questions we ask and our capacity to seize innovative opportunities."

It adds that ageism, where people are discriminated against simply because of their age, is "an even more pervasive form of discrimination than sexism or racism".

Singapore is not immune from such stereotyping.

Take the website Our Population Our Future, under the Prime Minister's Office, which states: "For Singapore, people are our one natural resource."

Yet, on the same page, it says: "With improving quality of life, Singaporeans remain more active than before in their older ages. Nevertheless, an ageing society means there are fewer working-age adults for every person aged 65 and above."

This mental categorisation of people into two distinct groups - between working-age adults and the elderly who need to be supported - can become crippling for Singapore as the Republic's population is ageing rapidly. By 2030, Singapore will have 900,000 people aged 65 and above. Singapore can choose to dismiss this large pool of people as "dependent" and unproductive, or work harder at keeping them within the workforce and helping them stay active.

Which path it takes could well determine the future economic growth of the country.

If the public, private and people sectors are able to take ageism out of the equation, Singapore's workforce will no longer be limited to people aged 20 to 64 years of age.

The dependency ratio will similarly refer to only seniors in need of support, and not to a whole chunk of the population who falls off the radar because of their chronological age.

Future generations will likely live even longer and healthier lives than today's generation, which already surpasses what their parents and grandparents achieved.

Singapore and Singaporeans need to move away from the mindset that any chronological age - be it 65, 70 or older - defines the able, and those needing support.

Singapore should take advantage of its people's increasing lifespan, which has been increasing by about three years every decade.

Based on the WHO report, it would not only be foolish, but also possibly even suicidal, for Singapore to ignore its one major resource - just because that's the way the rest of the world view their older people.

Today is the International Day of Older Persons. Populations are getting older. The number of people aged 60 and over is expected to double by 2050. Health is crucial to how we experience the #YearsAhead.
Posted by World Health Organization (WHO) on Thursday, October 1, 2015

Ageism 'more common' than sexism or racism
Such pervasive discrimination ignores contributions older folk make to economy: WHO report
By Salma Khalik, Senior Health Correspondent, The Straits Times, 1 Oct 2015

Seniors can contribute much to society but they are often assumed to be a burden and discriminated against, the World Health Organisation (WHO) said yesterday.

That assumption could lead to the policymaking idea that "spending on older people is simply a drain on economies", according to its World Report on Ageing and Health released yesterday.

The WHO slammed ageism and described it as "an even more pervasive form of discrimination than sexism or racism". It said such assumptions ignore the many contributions older people make to the economy.

The report cited a 2011 study in Britain, which found that, after deducting pensions, welfare and healthcare, older people contributed £44 billion (S$95 billion) to society in terms of taxes, spending and other economically valuable activities.

This contribution is set to rise to £77 billion by 2030. Older people also contribute in less economically tangible ways, such as providing emotional support or mentorship.

The report added that enabling people to lead long and healthy lives may actually ease pressures on inflation in healthcare costs.

Social and technological changes "mean that getting older in the future will be very different from the experience of previous generations".

"For older people with desirable skills and financial flexibility, these changes create new opportunities."

The report also said outdated stereotypes limit the way societies conceptualise problems. They also limit their capacity to seize innovative opportunities.

Poor health "does not need to dominate older age", it said. Loss of ability is "only loosely related to a person's chronological age".

Some people in their 60s need help with basic activities, yet there are 80-year-olds with "levels of physical and mental capacity comparable to those of many 20-year-olds", the WHO added.

The report said most older people's health problems are associated with chronic conditions, many of which can be prevented, delayed or managed if detected early.

It added that the goal of healthy ageing is to maximise functional ability so that people can continue doing what is important to them .

WHO director-general Margaret Chan said: "The greatest costs to society are not the expenditures made to foster this functional ability, but the benefits that might be missed if we fail to make the appropriate adaptations and investments.

"With the right policies and services in place, population ageing can be viewed as a rich, new opportunity for both individuals and society."

The report's focus is on building the abilities of older people to enable them to navigate their changing world, and to invent better and more productive ways of living.

Professor Euston Quah, head of the economics division at the Nanyang Technological University, said government policies need to incentivise employers to regard older people as an asset, and not as employees who are a liability.

He said: "If policies are crafted right, one can expect a healthier ageing population. There will also be less burden for the family, which then encourages higher or no losses to total productivity for the country."

Dr Jeremy Lim, who heads the health and life sciences practice at consulting firm Oliver Wyman, said: "Singapore is pretty much headed in the right direction. With SG50 and the Pioneer Generation Package, there is now recognition of the value seniors bring to society.

"All that said, it's still early days, and Singapore needs to execute the plans well."

No comments:

Post a Comment