PHOTOS: (From left) Professor Louise Robinson, Ms Carol Yip and moderator Teymoor Nabili discuss how Asia can deal with an ageing population. (Photo: Samantha Yap)
By Samantha Yap
SINGAPORE: In Asia and around the world, healthcare systems will feel an immense strain as populations grow older, according to medical experts.
With disease treatment and prevention improving, life expectancy up and birthrates on the decline, the number of people aged 60 or over is expected to more than double from an estimated 840 million people now to more than 2 billion in 2050, according to a United Nations report.
Despite this growing imbalance, healthcare experts said infrastructure and social mindsets are not yet ready to deal with providing adequate care for the elderly.
“Ageing is not just a health problem, it is a societal problem and we need to be looking at not just at our health and care facilities, but our housing and our communities and making them age friendly,” said Professor Louise Robinson, Director at the Institute for Ageing and Professor of Primary Care and Ageing at Newcastle University (UK).
Speaking on Channel NewsAsia’s discussion programme, Perspectives, on the topic of Caring for Ageing Asia, Prof Robinson added: “We’re living longer but not necessarily living better.”
Joining Prof Robinson on the panel at a taping of the programme on 30 November, 2015 held at the Newcastle University Medicine Campus in Iskandar, Malaysia, were Dr Jeyaindran Tan Sri Sinnadurai, Deputy Director-General of Health, Ministry of Health, Malaysia; Ms Carol Yip, CEO, Aged Care Group; and Ms Chin Wei Jia, Group CEO, Health Management International and CEO, Regency Specialist Hospital.
“As we age we’re going to put a very big strain on the healthcare system, the facilities, the financing, the manpower and these are issues that will only exacerbate over time,” said Ms Chin.
With the rapidly ageing population putting pressure on hospital capacity, Ms Chin believes a multi-party approach is the best way forward.
She asked: “How do we facilitate that conversation and talk about ageing as a nation, as a society and bringing it back down to the level of family and the individual? We need public, private and not-for-profit community integration when we look at caring for the aged.”
Ms Chin and her fellow speakers said that equipping households, healthcare facilities and organisations with the right infrastructure, programmes and training will be the basis for an integrated ecosystem of aged care.
AWARENESS IN AGEING ASIA
But challenges remain.
In Asia, there is still a social stigma around sending the elderly to an aged care facility, according to Dr Jeyaindran. So communities need to be confident that healthcare facilities can alleviate some of the strain of caring for the elderly.
Dr Jeyaindran said that many people do not realise that looking after an elderly person is more physically and mentally demanding than looking after a child.
“It has become an acceptable norm for people to send their children to nurseries and day care, but it is not an acceptable norm yet to send an elderly person to day care. That is looked upon as cultural taboo in Asian society where you have to look after your elderly.”
A shift in public perception of the elderly can remove some of the social stigmas surrounding aged care, even if it is just semantics.
Terms like “silver tsunami” and “greying population” tend to hold negative connotations, and Ms Chin said the public needs to think of ageing in terms of preparing for the “golden years”, because growing old is nothing to be ashamed about.
“It should be known as golden years, and we should plan for it. We should be very aware about it, and we should seek out the information that we need on what we should prepare for as we age,” said Ms Chin.
Ms Yip said that part of raising community awareness and education could be self-reflection at home so younger generations can be prepared for the road ahead.
“We all age together, at home and with our parents. So how we look at our parents is exactly how we’re going to visualise ourselves. So more importantly I think, we have to now create a lot of awareness to educate everyone how to handle this problem,” said Ms Yip.
Source: Channel NewsAsia, Thursday Dec 31, 2015