Based on projections from the United Nations (UN), 47% of Singapore’s total population will be aged 65 years or older in 2050. This demographic shift will put immense pressure on Singaporean society as a shrinking workforce.
The rhetoric of an ageing population has plagued Singapore for quite some time, but there really is not much we can do about the statistics. Currently, the idea that an ageing population is an economic burden paints a rather bleak future for a large majority of the population.
In engaging an older workforce, there have been some measures taken, such as raising the retirement age or creating more elderly-centric enrichment activities to help them stay relevant, but what about those on the fringes of society? Are we doing enough to ensure their well-being and survival?
Elderly depression and loneliness is prevalent in Singapore, but it is especially so for those living in poverty. While it is addressed, nothing substantial has been done to curb this problem because there is still a lack of public awareness and understanding of this matter. Among the elderly with issues like dementia, it is fairly common for them to suffer from depression as well.
Depression and loneliness in the elderly can lead to social disconnection, fear of becoming a burden and impairments to physical and mental functioning. The buildup of negative emotions and the inability to express it can take a toll-in extreme cases, some even turn to suicide.
The mental health movement in Singapore has been more robust of late, but there is still a level of exclusion in the older demographic in Singapore. Considering how they do not have access to the myriad of digital content that is available at our fingertips, an innovative offline approach needs to be in session. As suicide rates in elderly hit an all-time high. Coupled with the endless medical services needed, maintenance of household expenses and deteriorating health, many feel overwhelmed and even helpless, unable to see the light of their situation.
According to Samaritans Of Singapore, “suicidal people do not want to die. They want to live so desperately, but they can’t seem to find a way to,” “They feel like they have exhausted all their options and the pain they are experiencing is well beyond them.”
Not all hope is lost though, there are organisations out there that cater to helping the elderly stay active and facilitate socialisation, such as virtual reality (VR) developer Eugene Soh – knowing that many Singaporean-Chinese men and women will not be able to fully enjoy and celebrate the upcoming Chinese New Year because of physical disabilities or the absence of children – is working hard to bring the celebrations to them instead with technology.
As a society, we need to stop treating them as charity cases and work on creating a society that is genuinely compassionate and inclusive. It may seem like a distant reverie for now, but there needs to be something done on a personal level. We have to remember that the elderly in our society are not just part of a larger statistic, they are a collection of experiences and lessons from days gone by.
Fundamentally, the way we as a society perceive and evaluate ageing needs to change by focusing on inclusion and overall well-being-not the economic burdens that come with an ageing population.
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