$3b plan to help seniors live more fulfilling lives

A group of senior citizens exercising.
A group of senior citizens exercising.PHOTO: ST FILE

On the cards are active ageing hubs and programmes for learning and volunteering

In a push to brighten the golden years, a $3 billion five-year plan will give Singapore's seniors opportunities to learn, volunteer and live independently, well after retirement.

The new Action Plan for Successful Ageing will open senior centres for social activities as well as daycare in at least 10 upcoming HDB projects, and launch a free PAssion Silver card with perks for those aged 60 and over. Up to $200 million could also be set aside for ageing-related research.

Announcing the measures yesterday, Health Minister and Minister- in-charge of Ageing Gan Kim Yong said the goal was to help seniors live more fulfilling lives.

"The ageing population need not be a burden to us," said Mr Gan. "In fact, longevity is something that we can celebrate."

There have been similar government-initiated plans for active ageing in the past, for instance in 2010, when $100 million was set aside to keep seniors healthy and involved in their communities.

By 2030, one in five people - or some 900,000 - will be aged over 65. By then, there will be only 2.1 working-age citizens to support each one aged 65 or above, compared with 5.2 as of last year.

In coming up with this action plan, the Ministerial Committee on Ageing, of which Mr Gan is chairman, spoke with more than 4,000 Singaporeans young and old over the past year.

The plan will also launch a National Seniors' Health Programme to address ageing-related health concerns that aims to reach out to at least 400,000 seniors aged 50 or above by 2030.

Active ageing hubs will be built in future Housing Board developments. They will be similar to senior activity centres but larger, said Mr Gan, and incorporate both social programmes and rehabilitation or daycare services.

Other plans on the cards include more elderly-friendly public transport and even therapeutic gardens designed to help seniors who have dementia and stroke.

Ms Peh Kim Choo, director of the Tsao Foundation's Hua Mei Centre for Successful Ageing, said the changes were a breath of fresh air.

In the 1990s and into the 2000s, she said, much of the conversation about ageing revolved around the problems to be caused by the so-called silver tsunami.

"But this time round, it paints a vision. It talks about possibilities for the person growing old," she said.

Ms Anthea Ong, president of the Women's Initiative for Ageing Successfully (Wings), also welcomed the "systemic effort" to reframe ageing as an exciting and productive phase of life.

And if things go according to plan, this will be just the start.

"We hope people will come forward with more suggestions as time goes on," Mr Gan said.

Ms Serena Seah, 58, said activities such as cooking courses could interest housewives with grown children, who would have the time. She attends courses such as line dancing to keep fit and mobile.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 27, 2015, with the headline '$3b plan to help seniors live more fulfilling lives'. Print Edition | Subscribe