“Will you still need me/Will you still feed me/When I’m 64” sang the Beatles in 1967. An increasing number of Singaporeans are pondering that question as the city-state heads towards becoming an ‘aged society’ in less than five years. According to the World Health Organisation, an aged society is one where 14 percent or more of the population is aged 65 years and above. By 2030, 24 percent of Singapore’s population will be in that age group.
Many of the concerns and questions about population ageing are being addressed by the Tsao Foundation Ageing Research Initiative at the National University of Singapore (NUS). Thanks to seed funding provided by the Tsao Foundation, which is dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of older people, Professor Angelique Chan, Department of Sociology and Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, and her team of four researchers have undertaken rigorous scientific studies on a variety of ageing issues with a clear aim to inform policy makers.
For instance, the wellbeing of caregivers, many of whom are middle-aged or elderly with health issues of their own, was investigated by interviewing 1,200 elderly along with their caregivers. Another study looks at the consequences of social isolation on the mental, physical and financial health of the elderly. Recently launched is a randomised control trial (EPICC, Elder-Centred Programme of Integrated Comprehensive Care) examining the feasibility of a one-stop care centre for the frail elderly where all their needs are met in a holistic manner. A concurrent cluster randomised trial (SCOPE, Self-Care for Older Persons in Singapore) is being run out of 14 senior activity centres in Singapore that evaluates the effectiveness of a chronic disease management programme on reducing blood pressure and hypertension. Other initiatives include a six-region comparison of long-term care financing, regional symposiums and conferences involving both young and senior scholars, internships, presentations, and reports.
“Our research includes some of the first community-based randomised control trials for older adults in Singapore,” says Prof Chan. “We are identifying areas that have been studied in the West but not as much in Asia, among different gender, socio-economic strata and ethnic groups who may exhibit different responses to similar situations. We are documenting the issues in a scientific way and we want to bring this to the attention of policy makers and hopefully drive social change through our work at the University.”
The gift from the Tsao Foundation, which helped build the team’s infrastructure and manpower, has been critical to the Initiative. “The Tsao funding has allowed us to develop a solid body of research on ageing and Singapore,” says Prof Chan. “The Tsao Foundation gift provided seed funding and the idea really worked. By providing us with the manpower, the gift enabled us to write proposals and attract further investments in our research. ”
With the Tsao Foundation renewing their support for another three years, Prof Chan now hopes to start work on other key topics such as gathering data on what Singaporeans think about the issue of retirement and an extended working life, and intergenerational relationships in rapidly ageing contexts.