Changing mindsets to meet needs of the ageing population

Amala Balakrishner

SINGAPORE (Nov 12): When it comes to keeping older workers employed, Singapore has scored well among developed nations. But more can be done, says London Business School Professor Andrew Scott.

According to Scott, it is not just about ageing gracefully; being productive in your later years is also crucial for your well-being.

Speaking at a panel discussion at Prudential Singapore's office in Marina One on Tuesday, Scott says, “when you live up to 70, you have 124,800 productive hours”. That number of productive hours increases to 156,000 and 218,000 when an individual lives to 80 and 100. This is a scenario Singaporeans should be accustomed to as they are live longer, he adds.

Scott is the co-author of a book titled "The 100-Year Life: Living And Working In An Age Of Longevity". The book had inspired insurer Prudential to sponsor a paper – "The Longevity Agenda" – featuring contributions from Scott as well as National University Health System chief executive Professor John Wong, Tsao Foundation chairman Dr Mary Ann Tsao and Prudential Singapore chief executive Wilf Blackburn.

At Tuesday’s discussion, however, Scott was joined by Dr Carol Tan, medical director of geriatric clinic The Good Life Medical Centre, and National Volunteer and Philanthropy Centre (NVPC) director for knowledge, marketing and advocacy Jeffrey Tan.

During the hour-long discussion, Scott called for a shift from the traditional “three stage life” of school, work and retirement to a “multi-stage life” involving greater flexibility in career paths. This which would be especially beneficially to older workers, he adds.

Of those aged 60 to 64 in Singapore, 64% are employed.

While those numbers are encouraging, ageist stereotypes where older workers are seen as slow and resistant to change still persist, argues Scott.

Agreeing, other panelist Dr Tan also argues that older workers are a precious resource to tap, since “the older brain is actually faster than the younger brain, because it has the institutional knowledge that detects patterns and allows them to work faster.”

NVPC’s Tan also suggested that seniors focus their golden years on volunteer work, citing the late Teresa Hsu, who was well known for her active lifelong devotion in helping the aged, sick and the destitute.

The prominent social worker was one of the oldest persons in Singapore when she died aged 113 in 2011.

“It helps find meaning and a sense of purpose,” he adds.

But he concedes that this mindset often does not come easily to the Merdeka Generation – referring to Singaporeans born in the 1950s - who often associate volunteering with giving donations.

What is ultimately also needed, he says, is a “de-medicalise” healthcare system done in collaboration with various stakeholders such as doctors, economists, businesses and community partners, to help individuals live their best life.

Meanwhile, Prudential Singapore chief executive Wilf Blackburn, who was also on the panel, says that the company is doing its part by moving away from its traditional role of collecting a premium and paying for treatment when a patient falls sick to one where it helps its customers stay healthy.

Amongst other things, Prudential has introduced a claims-based pricing model to its private hospital integrated shield plan rider, PRUExtra Premier. Here, customers enjoy 20% lower premiums when they do not make any claims for a review period.