The RSIS Centre for Non-Traditional Security (NTS) Studies' Blog

Implications and Perceptions of Singapore’s Ageing Population

Posted in Health and Human Security by NTSblog on September 8, 2010

As of June 2010, the total population of Singapore had surpassed the 5 million mark out of which 9 per cent are aged 65 and above. While low in contrast to Japan’s 23%, Singapore has the highest percentage of elderly citizens among Southeast Asian nations.

This has become a concern for the Singaporean government as a growing ageing population is perceived to have health security implications on two levels: firstly, on the individual health of the elderly person and secondly, on the national public health system that supports them. Such issues reflect non-traditional security/ human security concerns, which emphasise the need for efficient access to resources for the well-being of vulnerable sections of society.

Recent news reports suggest that elderly individuals become increasingly prone to numerous health risks as they age. For instance, the risk of malnutrition among Singaporeans heightens with age, with 3 in 10 elderly Singaporeans at moderate to high risk of malnutrition, making “the elderly more prone to falls and fractures, affecting their level of independence and contributing to greater healthcare costs.”  Furthermore, osteoporosis would increase thanks to a rapidly ageing population as well as potential under-diagnosis and treatment.

It is also perceived that each of these risks places burdens upon the national public health system that takes care of the elderly Singaporean. Statistics show a drop in the number of residents aged 15 to 64 for each resident aged 65 years and over – from 9.9 in 2000 to 8.2 in 2010. This has caused concern of a rising tax burden on working Singaporeans in order to compensate for the percieved increased health costs of the elderly. Other concerns included an insufficient number of medical personnel to take care of the needs of the elderly. A major response to this concern was the announcement of the establishment of a new medical faculty at Nanyang Technological University to cater to the demand for more doctors as the number of senior citizens increased.

However, this may constitute an overreaction to a perceived social problem. The fact that Singaporeans are living longer should not be seen as a disadvantage; instead it should be perceived as testament to the good quality of life and national health care that is enabling people to live longer lives.

Concerns regarding rising tax burdens on working Singaporeans to cater to the increased health costs of the elderly are also overstated. Firstly, in a highly developed country with sufficient resource capacities such as Singapore, the problem is not ‘rising’ health costs, but rather the lack of awareness on utilising the available resources. For instance, elderly individuals who need healthcare coverage the most often go uncovered and long-term care schemes remain underdeveloped. As such, a degree of foresight is needed amongst families to plan for sufficient health security benefits in the future. Secondly, the assumption that the elderly are less inclined or capable of contributing to the economy is flawed:  17.2 per cent of Singaporeans aged 65 and above are still part of the national labour force and that 45 percent of Singaporeans would like to work past the official retirement age.

Given these considerations, perhaps it is time that we began perceiving and treating the ageing population phenomenon as an opportunity to bridge existing gaps in healthcare coverage for the elderly and recognize and encourage their contribution to society and the national economy rather than labeling them a health security hazard.


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