Dear Elders: Singapore accommodates aging with new policies

One of the world’s fastest growing countries, Singapore, with the population of over 5 billion. By 2030, 19% of its population will be elderly (over 65 years old), indicating that Singapore will be the first ASEAN country faced with an aging society (followed by Thailand in the second place). This necessitates the need for Singapore to formulate policies, prepare infrastructure and facilities, and get ready for the ‘silver tsunami’, a wave of the elderly, to arrive in the near future.

Singapore’s Ministry of Health has announced $2.1 billion development plan aimed to build “A Nation for All Ages”. The plan covers several areas, such as health and wellness, learning, volunteerism, housing, transport, and social development. The National Silver Academy is established to provide seniors with lifelong learning opportunities. $142 million is set aside for research and innovation for silver years. Initiatives include senior housing, co-locating eldercare and childcare facilities in new housing developments to support the forthcoming inter-generational interactions, and a pilot therapeutic garden for seniors with dementia and stroke.

The Ministerial Committee on Aging (MCA) and over 4,000 citizens introduced ideas to make the city more senior-friendly and promote quality living through several channels. Focus groups are held; listening points are organized in public areas such as department stores, libraries, and universities; online channels are set up to gather suggestions for development under 10 areas, namely 1) employment (no age restrictions or reemployment of seniors), 2) learning (institutions or spaces to provide courses), 3) senior volunteerism to provide assistance and inspirations, 4) health and wellness for strong physical and mental health, 5) social inclusion to connect people of all ages, 6) aged care (cohabitation and facilities in near home), 7) housing that accommodates changing needs, 8) transport that creates new travel experience, 9) public spaces (senior-friendly urban structure), and 10) research related to aging (to understand the needs and support innovation).

One example of the development areas for an aging society is transport. Many elders want to live an active life. With senior-friendly public transport their commute can be easy, safe and convenient for them to independently travel. In this regard, suggestions for Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) include clear, visible signposts in the stations to help seniors use train services with confidence, longer train dwell time, and extension of elevator doors opening and closing time during non-rush hours. Suggestions for the bus are enlarged fonts on the bus for clearer visibility from a distance, station announcements inside the bus to inform senior passengers, and wheelchair-accessible bus services.

Marine Parade is one of the cities being developed as part of the City for All Ages (CFAA) project. Not only does it aim to build a senior-friendly city infrastructure-wise, the project also plans to develop the social aspect to support seniors to age healthily, independently, and confidently. The 4-years development project bears fruits as follows:

1) Crossing lights – when the elders use their EZ-link pass (a value card for transit use), the crossing time will be extended by 6 seconds so they can take their time crossing the road.

2) The concrete walkways cover drainage ditches to avoid slips, trips, and falls.

3) Benches are available at various points, with large armrests to help seniors sit down and stand up easily.

One crucial element not to be overlooked in Singapore’s urban development plan for its aging population is green spaces. National Parks Board (NParks), an agency overseeing the greenery in Singapore, responds by planning to make parks friendlier to the elders, such as upgraded toilets and footpaths. Metal drain covers have started to be scrapped to prevent trips and falls. Lighting will be improved in several parks, including Jurong Bird Park, Admiralty Park, and East Coast Park. NParks also develops an urban garden for therapeutic purposes, aimed to provide both physical and mental support to garden visitors. The design is grounded on horticulture, the science of crop cultivation, to benefit seniors with dementia and stroke by providing space for relaxation and green zones through collaboration with private gardens and small areas in communities across the country.

Images source: sustainabledevelopment.un.org