Smart ageing strategies in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore
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Smart ageing strategies in Japan, Taiwan and Singapore

Couple exercising

Japan: A new way to grow old

Japan is at the forefront of super-aged societies, with almost 28 per cent of the population older than 65 years. But instead of having a bleak outlook of its declining population, the Japanese are relooking the entire process of managing ageing related issues.   

As more citizens are expected to live till 100 and beyond, the government launched a council for designing a society for 100-year life in September last year (2017). It aims to formulate policies that are more senior-centric, such as helping older folk work longer, contribute to society with their rich experiences or refresh their lifestyle.

“Being 70 years old today is like reaching one’s 60s or 50s in the past,” said Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the council’s first meeting. “I myself will turn 63 this year, but I still feel like I am 52 or 53.”

To feel young again, Japanese society also has to reconcile with previous deep-seated negativity associated with ageing.  

Just over a decade ago, it was taboo to talk about death before you die, noted Dr Hiroyuki Murata, a professor from Tohoku University’s Smart Ageing International Research Centre.

Today, Japan’s society has undergone a paradigm shift. “We believe ageing is gain, ageing is developing, and we strongly believe ageing is human growth,” said Dr Murata at the 9th Ageing Asia Innovation Forum (AAIF) held in Singapore this year.

He proposed a ‘smart ageing’ strategy to help seniors age actively.  One initiative he brought to the Japanese market is Curves, a women’s fitness franchise that offers 30-minute workout sessions. Starting in 2005, there are now over 1,800 studios in Japan with 840,000 female members. Their average age is 63.

The driving force behind societal change is the private sector, added Dr Murata.  It helps that big retailers and supermarkets are now targeting seniors, offering perks from early bird discounts to morning activities such as radio gymnastic classes.

“To give senior customers the economic incentive to go out and make new friends – those are the kinds of social capital activities that more should do,” he noted.

Daughter and mom

Taiwan: Creating a living lab for ageing innovations

Taiwan is racing ahead to become an elderly enclave, and official estimates predict that it will become a “super-aged” society in the next eight years.

With 14 per cent of its population aged 65 years and older now, Dr Chi-Hung Lin, Commissioner of Taiwan’s Department of Health, believes it is time to for innovative ageing concepts.

Speaking at the Ageing Asia Innovation Forum , Dr Chi shared about a mobile app that was created by the government to collect health data from the population so as to cater for better health services.

With a software platform created, the government also provided wearable devices to the public to monitor their vital signs.

While he is confident that healthcare facilities in Taiwan are “very good”, he feels that what is hindering accessibility to healthcare is the lack of public awareness.

“Although we have the setup and professionals, the awareness and literacy of our citizens are not high enough,” he said.

One of the initiatives to counter this and raise awareness about ageing is a touring bus to raise awareness about dementia. Bright yellow in colour, the bus also brings cheer to rural communities it travels to.

The government also plans to increase the number of public multi-generational apartments for rent. “Lots of different things can also happen if you try to mix different generations together. We are encouraging the building of such kind of facilities in our municipalities,” said Dr Lin.

A recent model of this involved the conversion of underused campus of elementary schools to affordable residential facilities.

Kampung Admiralty

Photo: HDB provided an artist’s impression of the Kampung Admiralty pilot project.

Singapore: Prototyping a village for all ages

Over in Singapore, multi-generational living is also gaining ground as the population of seniors grows.

One living arrangement being piloted is Kampung Admiralty. Kampung refers to a traditional village community in Malay, where there is the culture of helping one another. There used to be many kampungs in Singapore, but the rapid urbanisation of the country over the past few decades have replaced the majority of them with new buildings.

Mr Liak Teng Lit, Co-Chairman of the Kampung Admiralty Steering Committee, shared how his team is trying to bring the kampung or village spirit back by developing the nation’s first retirement community. “When a space is designed properly, people will slow down and get to know one another, and they become friends,” said the co-chair of the Kampung Admiralty project.

For about S$100,000 for a 30-year lease, residents can buy one of the 100 studio units of this 11-storey complex if they are aged 55 and above.

Seniors who live in Kampung Admiralty are minutes away from a hawker centre, supermarket, eldercare and medical facilities – all self-contained within one development.

“We know that old people generally do not want to move very far. They’d usually limit their activities to places near their neighbourhood, ” Mr Liak explained.

There are also many spaces around to help seniors relax and stay active, such as a community plaza, rooftop garden, a community farm and even a pond for rearing fish.

But Kampong Admiralty is also a showcase of inter-generational living.  “It is a village for all ages, because we don’t believe in isolating the young and old – you can’t, because very soon, in almost all of our cities, at least a quarter of the people will be over 65 years,” he said.

Common spaces are designed to encourage the young and old to “bump” into each other and interact with one another

“The elderly loves the sound and sight of children running around, even if they are not their children. Interestingly, many young children will run to the old people, even though they are strangers... The young and old have a general affinity for one another,” he observed.

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