Are we heading towards an ‘ageless’ future?

The Economist Longevity Summit held in Singapore on the 27th of September was a call to arms for countries, organisations and individuals across all ages to embrace the opportunities of an unprecedented population shift as the world population ages.

The aging population phenomena will result in immense social and economic transformation according to Charles Goddard, Editorial Director, Asia –Pacific, The Economist Intelligence Unit who chaired the Summit.

The key takeaway message from the Summit is a need to move from an ‘age fearing’ society to an ‘ageless ‘ society.

A significant attitudinal shift is needed to underpin and enable the opportunities of an aging population to be realised.

Older people are the only naturally increasing resource in the world, hence should be viewed as both social and economic assets according to Kanwaljit Soin, Founding President, Women’s Initiative for Aging Successfully.

Changing our thinking and language in relation to age and stage of life is a critical aspect to  Lilian Myer, Managing Partner of EconomyFour, a social impact firm that assists private and public sector business to develop strategies programmes and products. Biological age, for example, should not be used as a determinant to predict someone’s interests, capacity to learn, or capacity to work.

Using a descriptor of ‘stage of life’ rather than ‘age’ in life can combat perceptions of what someone might want to do or be able to do at a particular biological age.

Wilf Blackburn, CEO, and Prudential Singapore suggested that a multi-stage life should be promoted, for example, where education can happen at different stages in life, supported this view.

A shift in attitude towards an ‘ageless’ society challenge the practice of retirement at a particular biological age.  It was suggested that the term ‘retirement’  should in fact be retired as an outdated concept from the late 19th century when life spans were almost half of what we might expect in the near future.

For more information about the history of retirement, read this article from The Atlantic.

Enabling longer and richer working lives enables economic and social benefits for individuals and the societies they live in.

It is important to emphasise not just working longer but  accessing work that is fulfilling.

Kanwaljit Soin suggested career coaching and individualised options for employment is needed across life stages, and that cognitive diversity and age diversity would add richness to work places.

Tomoko Nishimoto Assistant Director-General and Regional director for Asia Pacific, International Labour Organisation, suggested organisations could promote job sharing or sabbaticals to meet the needs of people across life spans.

Wilf Blackburn of Prudential Singapore reported that they already provide a career switch program’s where people can opt to do voluntary work then return to their work roles.

Prudential has also collaborated with Skills Future Singapore to create a ‘future-ready workforce’ by helping employees acquire the skill sets needed to meet the future demands of the insurance industry.

Tomoko Nishimotoindicatedthe Japanese government is supporting companies to support the engagement of workers at later stages of life by providing subsidies.

A company with the catchy title of ‘Retired but not out’ based in Hong Kong connects experienced workers with engaging and flexible work options.

Priyanka Gothi founder and CEO highlighted the need to shift attitudes of the work preferences and skill sets of people at different stages of life.

She reported that more people from later stages of life than earlier stages of life are involved in ‘start ups’ – bucking the depiction often seen in popular media that entrepreneurial behaviour belongs to youth.

To fully realise the opportunities of an aging population for both individuals and societies health services need to be revolutionised so that optimal health occurs for as long as possible in a person’s lifespan. A number of speakers echoed the sentiment that a move from reactive health models to proactive health models is needed.

One solution is improving the ‘’health span’ not just ‘lifespan’ of people. Brian Kennedy, Director, Centre for Healthy Ageing, National University Health Systems [NUHS] Singapore reported on research using animal models that has the capacity to enable better understanding of ways to extend ‘health’ across the life cycle. However the cost of bio marking testing make impact accessibility.

Hong Kong which has one of the longest life spans in the world, has introduced community health clinics that focus on self-management and empowerment.

Lam Ching- Choi, member of the Executive Council Hong Kong, and Chairman, Elderly Commission, Hong Kong, indicated the clinics provide allied health and nursing services only, no doctors, in an endeavour to de- medicalise health.

He also reported that Hong Kong has recognised that  town planning is a critical factor in determining if a society is inclusive or exclusive.

Small pockets of housing with small shopping centres, accessible parks and services promote health and reduce isolation. Gary Khoo, Director, healthy ageing division, Health Promotion Board Singapore reported on preventative health programs in Singapore including; workplace health screenings and health coaching programs for taxi drivers that utilises scheduled off road time times to facilitate engagement; 250 free exercise classes in local communities across the island; free health devices.  He indicted that education in schools is being considered as a strategy.

Janice Chia, Founder and managing director, Aging Asia, highlighted the personalised needs of people in society such as older single women, women without children, and older women taking care of children in families. She touched on a need for micro finance for people at later stages of life.

All of Janice’s points warrant further exploration and conversations given women are mostly outliving men in most societies – perhaps at the 2019 Economist Longevity Summit

The Economist Longevity Summit 2018 provided some reassurance that governments and organisations have the capacity to challenge ageist attitudes that impact on the health and vocational opportunities of people at later stages of life – people like me!

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