We have weathered the ‘Black Swan’ crisis of our generation – COVID-19. With the move to endemicity, we now need to prepare for the ‘Grey Rhino’, an inexorable event that has vast implications on our society, but risks being neglected and overlooked. That event is ageing.
Our population is ageing rapidly. Over one in six Singaporeans is aged 65 and above now. This will become close to one in four by 2030. In absolute terms, it means about a million seniors in 2030, up from about 686,000 today.
It will open up different facets of challenges. An older society consumes, saves and works differently from a young one, and so the implications of our economy will be significant. There are issues of retirement adequacy, demographic dispersion across our country and risk of social isolation. Most of all, ageing is strongly associated with increased chronic disease burden and frailty and will add tremendous pressure on our healthcare system.
Fortunately, Singapore is well known to plan ahead and we have engaged in robust anticipatory policy development. We have been conducting economic review exercises, to focus on driving growth through industry transformation, innovation and productivity improvement. We are progressively raising the retirement age and re-employment age, and strengthening retirement adequacy through schemes such as the Silver Support Scheme. We have also been engaging Singaporeans, hearing from them on what their ideal ageing journey would look like, and taking in the input to develop our Action Plans for Successful Ageing.
For our population to become healthier, a key healthcare transformation that we have started to embark on is Healthier SG. We are shifting our emphasis from reactively caring for those who are sick, to proactively preventing individuals from falling ill. The starting point for better health is a long-term patient-doctor relationship, with strong support from the community.
With a stronger foundation on primary and preventive care, we can redirect and prioritise our effort and resources to support Singaporeans to age in their home and community for as long as possible, instead of institutional care. By 2030, more than 83,000 seniors aged 65 and above are projected to live alone, compared to 79,000 in 2022. While they may live alone, they need not be isolated. This requires us to build a whole community support system, to build social circles, care, love and friendships around seniors. This is the best way to keep seniors active and healthy.
As Singapore continues to age and grapple with its impact, there is much hope when anchored in good governance, community support and economic innovation. Taken together, these efforts will enable us to better improve the ageing experience for Singaporeans and corral the ‘Grey Rhino’.