By Boshika Gupta

In the Bollywood film, Lage Raho Munnabhai (2006), the “second innings house” was an important plot point. It referred to new beginnings for those who’ve retired and are free to pursue their dreams. The home struck a hopeful chord with viewers and gave people a chance to talk about elderly care in a fast-paced world filled with distractions and responsibilities.

According to the United Nations Population Division, the elderly population will make up around one-quarter of the world’s total population in the 21st century. In Singapore, this number is projected to be at least half.

“Growth in the number of older persons is a global phenomenon: it is expected that between 2017 and 2050, virtually every country in the world will experience a substantial increase in the size of the population aged 60 years or over,” the UN report said.

This is important because caring for senior citizens has increasingly become a challenge in a fast-paced world where people don’t have time to stop and think.  In fact, growing older is a completely different experience based on where you live in the world.

Japanese, Korean and Chinese people live with their parents in their twilight years. In China, it is compulsory for children to at least pay regular visits to their parents. The Elderly Rights Law doesn’t give a free pass to those who live far away, and applies to everyone in China.

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In India and Nepal, the tradition remained constant for a long time and required a newly married couple to live with the groom’s family. However, career changes and urbanization have started challenging this tradition. The governments from both the countries are working on state-run elderly care programs to deal with the situation and provide support and care.

However, the challenge to ensure a good, comfortable life for senior citizens remains a real concern. Old-age homes, alternative living arrangements and other solutions have popped up for those looking to live well in their retirement years. And why not? Age is considered just a number by many. The movies and pop culture make us think differently about getting older and there are several options for those who want to remain fit and challenge outdated conventions. Nobody wants to be left behind or feel dependent, forced to live without the opportunity to enjoy life’s little moments to the fullest.

The struggle, however, is very much real. The times are changing and lots of parents in India, for example, are making the decision to live in comfortable retirement homes near big cities. You can expect medical facilities, an environment designed for the elderly (such as anti-skid floors), health clubs and more.  A Sridharan, chief of Covai Senior Care Constructions that works on retirement homes, told the BBC, “A lot of young middle-class Indians left the country during the boom. Their children don’t want to be known as people who have their parents living in old age homes. So a need for such exclusive homes was felt and the rising middle-class is securing its retirement years by buying exclusive homes.” 

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In Germany, a trend that involved sending pensioners and sick Germans abroad for elderly care was severely criticized by social welfare groups who called it “inhumane deportation”.  This was linked to many people being unable to afford expensive retirement homes and an ageing population.

There is hope on the horizon, though. In Denmark, a dementia village called Hogewey is a cutting-edge facility meant for the elderly. It has its own town square, theater, park and even a post-office with a security system that’s designed to keep its residents safe. Friends and family are asked to visit often, and according to a CNN report, Hogewey’s members needed lesser medications, were eating better, living longer lives and seemed happier than those who were in more traditional facilities. Additionally, the homes at Hogewey are designed keeping in mind the years its residents’ short-term memories suffered (from the 1950s,1970s and 2000s), allowing them to feel like they’re living at home.

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In Singapore, the Community of Successful Ageing (ComSA) is a $5 million initiative that was launched in 2015.  It is run by the Tsao Foundation, an NGO that focuses on the problems that surround the elderly.  The project in Whampoa aims to allow older people to live their lives peacefully in their homes, maintaining their physical, spiritual and emotional well-being in the process. This is essentially a care system, not merely a service. Seniors can expect medical help, familiar faces, regular activities and a colorful social life.

Aging is, by no means, an easy task. But it shouldn’t feel like a punishment either. The fact that there are several options for senior citizens is a good sign. We just need to ensure that we stay connected, make them feel loved by their families and friends, happy and safe in their twilight years.