Next healthcare reform involves helping elderly grow old in community, says Singapore health minister

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SINGAPORE, Oct 6 — The next major area of reform for the healthcare system is ensuring that the elderly can keep living full lives in the community while guarding against the assumption that they will always become sick and frail, Health Minister Ong Ye Kung said on Wednesday (Oct 5).

Rounding up a two-day debate on a White Paper on the Healthier SG initiative, Mr Ong said that Singapore needs to squarely tackle the challenge of an ageing society, which has far reaching consequences in other various aspects of our lives such as in education, manpower and infrastructure.

He noted that by 2030, about one in four Singaporeans will be aged over 65, up from one in six today.

In addressing this challenge, however, Mr Ong cautioned against falling back on specialised care such as in nursing homes as a default, and warned about how loneliness can be detrimental to the health of seniors.

Suffering in old age ‘need not be a given’

Mr Ong said that among those who grow old, the “rapid escalation of disease burden and suffering (that comes with age) need not be a given”.

Society can delay health concerns such as the onset of chronic illnesses and frailty to a much later age, if active steps are taken to stay healthy, he said.

“The Government can make policy changes and reform our systems to help individuals achieve that,” he added.

Mr Ong also said that the society must be wary of the assumption that seniors will “always become sick and frail, and unable to take care of themselves”, as it would exacerbate the challenges of an ageing population.

Such a mindset may move people to take steps out of concern for the elderly — like telling them not to cook if perhaps they left the stove on and discouraging them from stepping out of the house if they’d had a fall.

But such actions would end up depriving seniors of physical activity, a sense of agency, and dignity, Mr Ong added.

“We want to protect them, but we unintentionally expose them to an even greater risk of isolation and loneliness. T...

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