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Housing policy has played a central role in Singapore and one of the most important considerations for planning and policy to ensure that public housing remained responsive to the aspirations, changing needs and circumstances of Singaporeans over time. Like any of the developed countries, we are facing the trends of aging population and low birth rates. Our first generation of “healthier, better educated and richer” baby boomers has already hit 65 in 2012. By 2030, it has been estimated that 900,000 baby boomers will form the largest aging population when time to come (Ministry of Community Development, Youth, and Sports, 2009). Housing planning and development has to be closely linked with its ageing policies for the seniors staying in the urbanized environment. Hence, there is a need to regularly review of housing policies, so as to meet the aspirations of the seniors to live independently. Our government has aimed to create an age-friendly city through the overall concept of ageing-in-place in order to keep our every senior physically and mentally fit to continue leading a normal, useful and active life. This framework is highly relevant to our urban environment due to the fact that over 80% of Singapore’s resident population own and live in Housing and Development Board (HDB) flats.
Housing is a basic need for the seniors because they need a secure and comfortable home, so as to provide a social surrounding for interaction with others in the community. A key concern for the seniors will be the quality of life in old age. As one grows older, a person’s mobility will gradually decreases and activities of daily living (ADLs) becomes more limited. A survey in 2009 has reported that many seniors preferred to live in their own homes independently or with their spouse; 25% would not mind staying in a retirement village, and 14% would not mind staying in a nursing home.
Another collaboration survey by Lien Foundation and NTUC Income done in 2016 has reported that most seniors are concerned about being able to care for oneself and ageing in place; and their aspirations for good health, being financially prepared and having a sense of purpose as they age. Indeed, living in owns home cannot be separated from their health and income because all three are inter-related. The same survey also reported that 78% preferred to stay in their own homes, many are open to stay in senior’s apartment, retirement village and assisted living facilities; however, nearly 1 in 3 are against staying in the nursing homes. Given to the diverse needs and dynamic changes in health status of seniors, our government need to support a comprehensive range of housing options targeted at them, complemented with specialized support services. This group of seniors is likely to demand for greater services and various housing options with respect to the quality of their housing, use of services, transportation and recreation. Not only that, they will be depend less on family and be capable of engaging in other form of voluntary work, play and interaction within the community in significant ways. The demand for longer periods of care due to illness or old age will also be increasing. This will have far-reaching consequences not only on the rate of household formation, but also on the short and long-term housing options, the community-based services that have to be developed to help our seniors to age in place; and the ways in which older households are helped to monetize their housing assets to enhance financial independence in retirement. This suggests that a market for such institutions to cater to the changing expectations regarding living arrangements for the seniors. More collaboration between multi-agencies and the private sector will be needed to innovate on programs, services, and typologies of housing and healthcare.
With an aging population and constraints of land space in Singapore, there is greater need for public consultation to welcome the integration of eldercare facilities within the community. The “not in my backyard” syndrome has regularly been surface up whenever there is a plan to build the eldercare facilities within the community. Stakeholders such as public agencies from HDB, Building and Construction Authority (BCA), Land Transport Authority (LTA), and Town Councils, including private and voluntary welfare organizations (VWOs) sectors should publicly advertise the planning and development of any elderly facilities early, engaged actively with the residents affected, so as to reduce the fear and prevent misconceptions about the value of their homes. Stakeholders must keep their lines of communication open throughout the implementation process in order to address their concerns. Designing housing policy considerations can be planned in consultation with the seniors so that they are empowered to change their own environment. The following implementations can be done to enabling the seniors to age in place:
Provide accessibility and safety of the environment is important for the seniors. This includes building barrier-free access and Silver Zones to enhance road safety for the elderly between housing estates and transport networks to ensure accessibility and promote mobility for the seniors.
Maintain value added and affordability of the choice of home if seniors need to downsize and monetize their current home assets.
Provide integrated health, social, and support facilities, including amenities nearby to reduce transport costs and prevent inconvenience to those less mobile seniors who have to commute long distances. This will promote active and healthy aging, and facilitate social interaction for seniors in the community to prevent social isolation.
For short and long-term facilities or services, provide quality staff to maintain standard of care, food, programs and activities. It is vital to promote quality of life and dignity for the seniors. Ensure cost is affordable for the seniors when such services are offered to them.
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