betty August 25, 2022

SINGAPORE – A 100-year lifespan for people may well become the norm as life expectancy continues to increase.

This has profound implications for societies and individuals who need to find ways to fund these longer lives, said Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Heng Swee Keat on Wednesday (Aug 25).

“The key question for all societies is, how we can support our people in leading meaningful and purposeful lives throughout their years,” he said, adding that the current view that seniors “impose a crippling burden on society” is a very limiting mindset that needs to change.

In order to better unleash the potential of people to contribute as they age, “it is critical that we unlock the ‘longevity dividend’, which will in turn benefit people of all ages and societies around the globe,” said Mr Heng.

He was giving the opening address at the Asian implementation of the United States’ National Academy of Medicine’s Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity at the National University Health System (NUHS).

The roadmap, published in June, is the result of three years’ work by an international commission of experts from multiple domains to envision a world where people lived longer lives, and how they can best do so through a whole of society approach.

Professor John Wong, senior vice president, Health Innovation and Translation at the National University of Singapore, co-chaired the commission with Professor Linda Fried, dean of the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University.

The report highlights areas where actions taken could significantly improve healthy longevity, including opportunities for meaningful engagement at every stage of life, social protection, financial security, physical environment, healthcare, and lifelong learning.

Mr Heng told participants at the event that while people are living longer, the retirement age has stayed about the same, and added: “It is an unfortunate reality that ageist practices and attitudes are still commonplace.”

While legislation can help, it is more important that employers recognise that offering opportunities to older workers is not charity, but rather, good practice for their companies.

“Research has found that older people in multi-generational teams tend to boost the productivity of those around them, and such mixed teams perform better than single-generation ones,” noted Mr Heng.

While mindset change is always difficult, Mr Heng said it is possible, pointing to the large number of women in the workforce today, a scenario that would have been unthinkable a generation or two ago.

“I am hopeful that in the years ahead, we will similarly be able to tap on the full potential of seniors to contribute to our communities,” he said.

According to the report, while people are living longer, they are also living more years in poor health.

Singapore has managed to make some progress on this front with health years going up from 66.6 years in 1990 to 73.9 years in 2019. Mr Heng said getting people to stay healthy for longer is an ongoing effort and more needs to be done to alleviate the stresses around the last years of life.

He added that health is about physical, mental, and social well-being: “Our aspiration is that even seniors with physical or cognitive frailty should have the confidence to continue to go out and lead active lives.”