An ageing population is, from one perspective, a triumph. It means that a society has managed, through sound policies and steady advancement, to allow its people to live longer, healthier lives than ever before. Yet this global phenomenon has stirred anxiety. Even as more of us are now able to fulfil the long-held human dream of living to a ripe old age, we also worry about affordability and sustainability, about intergenerational competition for resources, and about the risk of frailty, which rises along with advancing years.
Many of Asia’s rapidly developing urban centres, which until recently were concerned about basic subsistence, are now having to adjust to a ‘silver tsunami’ of seniors who comprise a growing proportion of society, as both mortality and birth rates plummet. Mindsets, structures and institutions, formed when longevity was the exception, have yet to catch up with the new normal of human lifespans.
In the long run, ingrained ideas about age and ageing will have to change. Automation is already reducing the need for physical exertion—for which youth is an advantage—in work. We should find ways to better recognise and sharpen the valuable skills and judgement that seniors have honed over the years, and to match these to the right tasks, so that they can extend their productive, independent lives. The Institute for Adult Learning in Singapore has found that while age and educational background have an impact on the ability to learn, appropriate technologies and learning methods can help seniors acquire new knowledge and competencies. While the stereotype of seniors is that they are averse to new tools and approaches, the reality is that a significant difference can be made if technologies are well designed to cater to individual needs. Indeed, cutting edge VR and AR technology could acclimatise senior learners to new environments while providing richer data to help in developing better facilities and pedagogy for them.
Of course, the future of ageing is not only about more finely tuned assistive hardware. Improving society’s soft touch may in fact be the more important service revolution, as we rally our communities to care for all its members. Seniors themselves play an important role, not only in staying active and connected themselves, but in helping their peers to do so.
The emerging generation of seniors is perhaps the most well-educated, healthy and capable of their age group in history. They are a diverse, dynamic group with varying interests and the wherewithal to pursue them. With advancements in medical and other technologies, our prospects for a full, rich life as we age are continuing to grow. Our elders are not the problem, nor should they be passive recipients of society’s largesse: instead, we must work harder to find ways in which seniors remain an active part of the solution, as we enhance society to meet changing circumstances and needs. The seniors of the future will continue to shape society, and contribute to the betterment of life—for all of us.
I wish you an inspiring read.