“As Singapore prepares for a silver tsunami – by 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 years and above – more people will spend their later years like Madam Mak at home or in a senior care centre” (Are Singaporeans Ready for Ah Kong to Age in Place?, Rahimah Rashith).
What appears as reactive research and policy responses to problems associated with Singapore’s ageing population and the demand for long-term care options beyond the nursing homes – such as cost and financing, the availability of quality services, as well as manpower and resource constraints, in particular (ST, Aug. 30) – may reveal the extent to which we are playing catch-up to care for the elderly. In other words, instead of anticipating some of these challenges and putting in place strategies in advance, the government and its community partners have had to respond in a more piecemeal or uncoordinated fashion. And this is even more worrying, given the fact that a silver tsunami is expected to hit Singapore in 12 years, when 25 per cent of the population will be older than 65.
Perhaps the question should not be “Are Singaporeans Ready for Ah Kong to Age in Place?”, but – especially for those approaching 65 in the next decade – “Are Singaporeans Ready to Age in Place?” A combination of taboo or stigma (of not talking about old-age experiences and death), uncertainty (over health, financial, or even employment issues), and the lack of knowledge (about home- or centre-based caregiving options) may have deterred Singaporeans from thinking or talking about these concerns, yet this lack of critical engagement limits discourse over what they truly need or prefer, vis-à-vis what is currently on offer. Lien Foundation’s recommendation to start “an informed conversation on what kind of care systems Singaporeans want”, in this vein, should be taken seriously.
Discussions of these needs and preferences should not be boxed in by what is currently on offer, and instead should encourage a plurality of perspectives from Singapore and around the world. Beyond well-established observations of caregiver stress and the limitations of community and home eldercare services, other sources would include first-hand family accounts and personal reflections of how one would like to age. The sharing of stories in well-facilitated settings, in particular, can be both cathartic and instructive. And by learning from different countries, especially those with similar demographics or socio-cultural dynamics, best practices can be distilled. Such prospective and plural narratives, by promoting Singaporeans to think about what they want, should ensure Singapore ceases to play catch-up when thinking about old-age care in the future.
A version of this article was published in The Straits Times.