1 in 4 Singaporeans aged above 65 developed chronic disease in past year: Study

Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor speaking at the SMU event.
Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor speaking at the SMU event.ST PHOTO: SAMANTHA BOH

SINGAPORE - One in four Singaporeans aged above 65 years old developed a chronic disease in the past year.

This is according to findings released on Friday (Nov 11) from the largest study of older Singaporeans and their financial ability to tide them through as they age.

While healthcare spending remained fairly stable with minor health shocks like hypertension, those who developed cancer, stroke or other major health shocks experienced a spike in healthcare spending which persisted for months after.

As Singaporeans age, they are at considerable risk of major health shocks, and these have long-term financial implications, said Professor Rhema Vaithiannathan, senior research fellow at the Centre for Research on the Economics of Ageing (Crea).

The findings underscore the importance of the Singapore Life Panel, a study started in August last year with the objective to assess how prepared Singaporeans are for retirement and ageing.

By 2030, one in four Singaporeans will be aged 65 and above as compared to one in eight today.

"But population ageing need not be a disaster - it will only seem so, if we all decline after a magical retirement age, and spend longer years in inactivity and ill health," said Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor on Friday.

She added that Singaporeans are living healthier long lives. The average number of years lived in good health has increased from 65.8 years in 1990 to 72.3 last year for men. For women, it has improved from 69 years to 75. The findings were from the Global Burden of Disease Study 2015.

Dr Khor said the Government wants to plan forward to meet the needs of seniors of tomorrow. "Research is therefore key to helping us transform the experience of ageing in Singapore."

The study by Crea at the Singapore Management University (SMU) aims to find out how prepared Singaporeans are, and who are not prepared. It will also shed light on the situation of a person approaching retirement and beyond. The results will then be used to give policy recommendations to the Government.

The study is being funded by a $10-million grant from the Ministry of Education.

Conducted online, the study has over 13,000 participants aged 50 to 70 who are asked to answer a set of questions every month. The research team receives an average of about 8,000 responses monthly.

A range of preliminary findings on topics such as financial literacy and household expenditure were revealed on Friday for the first time at a conference held at SMU.

The research found that married people generally saved more than single people, and that spending is highest among those in their early 50s.

It also found that around 36 per cent of individuals aged 50 and 59 expect to work full-time at 65, but at present, only 26 per cent of 65-year-olds hold full-time jobs.

"The difference between employment expectation and current actual employment suggests that labour force participation among older workers will continue to increase," said Dr Kim Seonghoon, an assistant professor of economics at SMU.

Professor Bryce Hool, dean of SMU's school of economics and director of Crea said the study will provide a very detailed picture of the Singapore population as it ages.

"We are able to see how the situation changes from one month to the next as people respond," he said.

"This information will enable us to model and simulate behaviour, and predict how individuals who experience these various shocks in the future are going to end up in terms of their retirement adequacy."