Two things are common to all living things: ageing and death. It is not coincidental that the former always culminates in the latter. While death can be abrupt and sudden, ageing is more gradual in living things, sometimes almost imperceptible.
For human societies, ageing signals a potential atrophy of culture, values, economy, and possibly the position of power and influence that some societies wield.
While old age is synonymous with wisdom in some societies, the consequent loss of youthful vibrancy and energy in many of its members can undermine the ability of a society to innovate, cope with new challenges, and potentially cater to the needs of its populace adequately.
“Ageing is actually the root cause of many illnesses that we encounter later in life,” says Jeffrey Duyvesteijn, the CEO of For Youth, a Singapore-based company which aims to help people live healthier for longer. “This goes from small issues like wrinkles to much more serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s or cancer. Slowing down ageing can, therefore, lead to a longer, healthier life.”
The inevitability of ageing demands that every society devise means to mitigate the impact on its existence and viability. “People do not only age in societies where they can move into a small flat or a care home, but also in poverty, in the cold without a home or enough to eat,” said Eleonor Kristoffersson and Thomas Strandberg in a book on interdisciplinary research on ageing.
As per United Nations data from 2020, the percentage of the world’s population aged 60 and above outnumbers those aged five and below. This situation is, however, more pronounced in some countries than others. For instance, about 30 per cent of the Japanese population is over 60 years old.
Moreover, in Asia and the Pacific, one in four persons is expected to be over 60 years old by 2050, with the population of older persons in the region expected to triple by 2050, rising to about 1.3 billion people, according to the Asian Development Bank. The Bank said the transition in some countries, such as China, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam, will be rapid, but it will be slower in others, such as Indonesia.
Regardless of the frailty that accompanies ageing, research published in July 2021 explained that some elderly people play vital roles in society by remaining active longer, volunteering, and caring for family members such as grandchildren. This is what many researchers refer to as successful ageing.
While its definition seems nebulous, most researchers agree that successful ageing implies good physical and cognitive capacities, the absence of disease or disability, and an active lifestyle.
But not many old people experience successful ageing. A 2016 Swedish study on people aged 76 and above showed health status deterioration between 1992 and 2002. The researchers, however, observed a significant reduction in disabilities in the demographic.
Singapore’s action plan for its silver tsunami
A 2018 study examined the irony of Singapore’s debacle: a young nation with a rapidly ageing population. The study showed that as of 2015, the country’s median age was 40, up from 34 years in 2000. The proportion of its population aged 65 years and above grew from seven per cent in 2000 to 13 per cent as of 2017.
A paper published by the Singapore Institute of Management in 2019 noted that the country’s population is among the fastest ageing in the world, explaining that a quarter of its population will be aged 65 and above by 2030.
By 2050, half of Singapore’s population maybe 65 years old and above. The challenge of Singapore’s ageing population, colloquially called the “Silver tsunami,” is compounded by a declining fertility rate and decreasing population growth.
The government’s action plan highlighted how dire the country’s situation would be, noting that “there will be far fewer Singaporeans of working age to support our elderly” by 2030, when the country will have about “900,000 seniors”.
“The number of older people in the Asia-Pacific region is rising at an unprecedented rate, and it is at the forefront of the global phenomenon of population ageing,” the United Nations Population Fund said.
The Singaporean government announced its Action Plan for Successful Ageing, detailing 70 initiatives in 12 areas, including health, housing, social inclusion, and learning. The Action Plans aim to help the country manage their ageing situation better.
“Our city will be a city for all ages, designed sensitively and lovingly for seniors to age gracefully among family, friends and neighbours, leveraging on the potential of modern technology,” said Gan Kim Yong who was the Minister for Health and Minister-in-charge of Ageing Issues in 2016.
As Singaporean authorities ride on the back of its action plan, For Youth, a company founded by Duyvesteijn is using science-backed knowledge and products to help people slow down how their bodies age.
“For Youth provides easy-to-digest and science-backed knowledge on ageing and helps to track and counteract its effects with a biological age test and lab-tested, carefully sourced supplements to your diet,” said Duyvesteijn.
Since some scientists now see ageing as a “disease” that could be cured, Duyvesteijn explained that healthy lifestyle choices and intake of certain supplements can either reverse or slow down ageing, thereby promoting longer, healthier lives.
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