Singapore should change mindset about elderly and see them as productive

Experts in the field of ageing say a mindset change is needed in Singapore when it comes to the elderly. 

These experts from Asia and Europe say it's important that the elderly here are seen as productive individuals, like in Europe. 

Researchers say a rapidly ageing population in Singapore has challenged attitudes towards the elderly. 

For example, earlier this year, several residents protested against the construction of eldercare facilities in their neighbourhood. 

Assoc Professor Angelique Chan from the Department of Sociology at National University of Singapore says more needs to be done to change perceptions of the elderly.

"If you go to the European context and you look at how European elderly are regarded, you will see they are very much seen as human beings, as people who actually want to live their lives as fully as possible, and be involved in society as fully as possible. I think we are still very far away from that in Singapore. We tend to isolate our older people. We don't let them work past the age of 65 and a lot more needs to be done."

Associate Professor Chan says employers need to understand that older people are still productive - a perspective which has worked well in Europe. 

Chief Executive of Beth Johnson Foundation from the United Kingdom, Dr Alan Hatton-Yeo agrees. 

"We are moving now towards much more flexible models of retirement where people may leave the workplace over a number of years, so they may become part-time workers but start to do voluntary work. So lifelong learning, continue to be involved in things, continue to feel valued and participate are really important. And I think that's been a really significant change for us in Europe. We value our older people much more now than we would have 20 years ago and recognise they've got a great deal to offer to society."

The Beth Johnson Foundation was established to develop new approaches to ageing that link practice, policy and research.

Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing says that's the direction the government hopes to take. 

In his opening address at the forum, Acting Minister for Social and Family Development Chan Chun Sing said: 

"Today, our mental model is that we teach our young all that we want to do in their early years. It's a very intensive teaching and learning in the first 20 to 25 years of their life. And thereafter we unleash them to the working world as if we they will be ready for the rest of their life. Maybe we have to rethink how we actually promote a culture of life long learning, how we design our modules whereby people of all ages can progressively pick up new skills, as we go along."

Mr Chan also says that while Singapore can learn lessons from other countries when it comes to active ageing, it's important that they are applied in context as a "one-size fits all" solution does not work, and that even in Singapore, different constituencies can have different needs.

-By Sara Grosse