There is no doubt that an ageing population presents multifaceted problems to any country (Grenade & Boldy, 2008, p.468).Therefore, tackling problems experienced by ageing populations demand collaboration and coordination among different agencies.
It is against this backdrop that the minister in charge of MCYS asked Mr. Lim Chee Seng (my immediate boss) to prepare a report on the intangible issues of loneliness and depression among Singapore’s ageing populations. As a new executive at the ministry, my role was to help my boss prepare the report.
This report will therefore analyze the trends of ageing population in Singapore and resulting concerns, especially about depression and loneliness. It will also assess current strategies adopted to tackle these two issues and assess the effectiveness of those measures.
Trends with regard to aging Population in Singapore
An ageing population presents both opportunities and challenges to any society (Sadasivan & Osman, 2006, p. 2). According to Mustaffa and Alkaff (2011), the population of ageing Singaporeans has grown considerably since the country attained self-government in 1965 (p. 420).
This proportion grew from 2.5 % in 1965 to over 8.6% in 2009 (representing an increase from 47, 000 to 330,000 over this period). What’s more, this population cohort has also grown older. For example, the ratio of the very old (85 years and above) increased from 4,400 to over 27,500 between 1980 and 2009 (Mustaffa & Alkaff, 2011, p. 420; Chan, 2001, p. 3).
Based on the statistics presented above, there are several old-age related challenges (such as loneliness and depression) that must be addressed at all levels of the community
Loneliness and depression in ageing populations
No one can dispute the fact that aging is a natural process. What’s more, aging and depression are inseparable. The degree of isolation and depression among ageing populations in Singapore is on a steady rise. Mustaffa and Alkaff (2011) assert that social isolation and depression are major causes of suicide cases among the ageing populations (p. 420).
Previous studies have shown that about 80% of the elderly people who commit suicide suffered from social isolation and depression (Mustaffa & Alkaff, 2011, p. 421). It is thus imperative that all groups of the community (individuals, families, community, private sector and government) adopt preventive measures to address these issues.
The importance of addressing depression and loneliness among the older people is increasingly acknowledged in inter-national policy in Singapore.
Health promotion services have long been perceived by the government and other agencies as one of the strategies to enhance social integration in order to lessen loneliness and depression among older people (Cattan & White, 2005, p. 44; Biggs, 2008, p.115).
As noted above, Singapore will experience an unparalleled increase in the number of ageing population by 2030. In light of the abovementioned demographic trends, it is imperative that the government put in place strategies and programmes to address isolation and depression facing the ageing populations (Sadasivan & Osman, 2006, p. ii).
It is worthy to note that ever since 1980s; several committees have been established to tackle these challenges. For example, the Committee on Ageing Issues (CAI) was formed in 2004 to improve on the work done by earlier committees.
The CAI’s vision is to ensure that all facets of the society (individuals, family and the community) are educated on how to tackle issues facing old Singaporeans. CAI aspires to empower people to age with respect and treat old persons as important members of the community.
The Committee encourages the families to address the emotional and physical needs of their elderly members. What’s more, CAI encourages people to prepare for old age early. The Committee has also advised the government to implement appropriate programmes and policies to enable Singaporeans lead productive lives in their old age.
For example, CAI has made a number of recommendations to the government achieve these outcomes: (1) provide elder-friendly housing options; (2) make the public transport system receptive to the elderly; (3) augment Medisave Accounts of deprived Singaporeans when there are budget surpluses; and (4) promote strong family bonds to reduce depression and loneliness among the elderly members (Sadasivan & Osman, 2006, p. v).
Aging issues, particularly loneliness and depressions, are quite prevalent among old members of the society (Mima & Bond, 2003, p. 22). Consequently, these issues must be addressed via a holistic and an assimilated strategy that encompasses the private sector, community organizations and government.
At the individual level, it is imperative that the elderly are treated with dignity and respect and be considered as important members of their families. What’s more, there is an urgent need for a robust network of services at the community level to promote active participation of the elderly Singaporeans in social and economic development.
Finally, the government must initiate appropriate programs (and support the existing ones) to encourage positive relationships and social integration between the elderly persons and other age cohorts in Singapore (Ferrara, 2009, p. 34).
Biggs, S. (2008). Aging in a critical world: The search for generational intelligence. Journal of Aging Studies, 115‐119.
Cattan, M. & White, M. (2005). Preventing social isolation and loneliness among older people: a systematic review of health promotion interventions. Aging and Society, 25, 41-67.
Chan, A. (2001). Singapore’s Changing Structure and the Policy Implications for Financial Security, Employment, Living Arrangements and Health Care. Singapore: Asian MetaCentre.
Ferrara, H. (2009). Seniors’ Social Isolation. Western Australia: Centre for Social and Community Research.
Grenade, L. & Boldy, D. (2008). Social isolation and loneliness among older people: issues and future challenges in community and residential settings. Australian Health Review, 32(3), 468‐478.
Mima, C. & Bond, J. (2003). Alleviating social isolation and loneliness among older people. International Journal of Mental Health Promotion, 5(3), 20–30.
Mustaffa, M. & Alkaff, S. (2011). Depression among Elderly. IPEDR, 5, 420-423.
Sadasivan, B. & Osman, M. (2006). Committee on ageing Issues: Report on the Ageing Population. Web.