Off-the-wall ideas needed to manage ageing population

At the round-table discussion last month on managing health and the issue of ageing well, Professor Chia Kee Seng, an epidemiologist at the Saw Swee Hock School of Public Health, said: "We will forever be behind the curve if we are just focusing on the current aged and the current sick."

I call this the horizon limitation principle. It is impossible to see beyond any current horizon.

I teach information technology to the elderly. If retired bank managers and accountants need to be taught how to use Excel, then I wonder what my own technological, technical and social media challenges might be in my extreme old age.

Our Central Provident Fund and Housing Board policies seemed reasonable enough when people retired at 50 and did not live much beyond three scores and ten.

We need visionaries (or mavericks) to think up off-the-wall ideas and solutions.

Career trajectories are also changing. Once upon a time, people had a job for life. Now, people change jobs often.

An extended lifespan might mean people switching careers - rather than just jobs - over their lifetime.

Thus, the people who thrive in their old age are those who have the skills and aptitude to keep learning for learning's sake, not just to pass exams.

We have designed maternity policies to retain mothers in the labour force. Employers must now also explore "menopause policies", instead of expecting older women to retire.

Consider also enticing post-menopausal women - including housewives - back into the workforce. They have a lot more to give, if the pay and conditions are right.

Crucially, a one-size-fits-all retirement age does not work.

People in intellectual services could go on "forever" if they remain physically healthy and mentally alert. Do we let them remain in their posts or move them sideways (gently), so that younger intellectuals can be given the opportunities to develop?

Bus drivers, labourers, air-traffic controllers and heart surgeons - I would not want them to work beyond a reasonable safety threshold, whether this be 64 or 52.

We need to follow the army scholarship-holder policy of redeployment when retirees still have time to retrain for another career.

It is commendable that the National Silver Academy runs make-up and poise courses. Training as a barista, however, could be more helpful for the younger old, who might decide to run their own businesses instead.

Lee Siew Peng (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 26, 2018, with the headline 'Off-the-wall ideas needed to manage ageing population'. Print Edition | Subscribe