2019-07-10 05:00:00 2019-07-11 04:59:00 SPH 1 Singaporeans, who are living longer, can help to offset the low birth rates if more of them continue working for longer, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said yesterday.

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Singaporeans, who are living longer, can help to offset the low birth rates if more of them continue working for longer, Senior Minister of State for Health Amy Khor said yesterday.

She was speaking at the opening of the High-Level Forum on the Silver Economy in Helsinki.

Organised by the Finnish government and the Global Coalition on Ageing, the two-day forum, which brought together participants from 45 countries, is part of myriad events being held this year leading up to the United Nations' Decade of Healthy Ageing 2020-2030.

Dr Khor said that in 2017, Singaporeans had a life expectancy of 84.8 years, of which 74.2 were lived in full health. "This brings opportunities for greater labour force participation at older ages, and is important for a country like Singapore, where birth rates are relatively low," she told the audience.

On the flip side, she said longer lives had also brought "us face to face with the disease burden and frailty that come with old age".

In the seven years between 2010 and 2017, chronic diseases have increased significantly in Singapore's population, with high cholesterol levels jumping by 33 per cent. This was partly fuelled by unhealthy lifestyles and habits.

The Ministry of Health (MOH) also estimates that half the number of healthy Singaporeans at age 65 could become severely disabled later in life and will need long-term care.

So, Dr Khor said, the Government's focus is to "help our seniors maintain their desired quality of life even in old age, and be able to afford the healthcare that they need, while ensuring financial sustainability in the healthcare system in the face of longevity".

She then provided a summary of the healthcare subsidies available, how the MOH is encouraging people to screen for diseases early - four in five Singaporeans aged 40 years and older do so now - and how it is working with food manufacturers to provide healthier options.

She said: "By supporting Singaporeans to actively manage their health and well-being, we achieve two objectives: a better quality of life for our seniors in their silver years, and a reduction in the strain on our healthcare system."

Finland's Prime Minister Antti Rinne in his opening address pointed out that ageing was a critical issue for the world. He said: "All successful societies in future will have to take into account the phenomena of ageing."

Another speaker at the forum, Dr Niku Maattanen, research director at the Research Institute of the Finnish Economy, spoke of how seniors could "release their housing wealth" so that they have more money to spend in their later years without having to save more.

Singapore, where 91 per cent of people own their homes, has such schemes so seniors can monetise their housing equity to meet their healthcare and retirement needs, said Dr Khor. But she added that Singapore was still learning from other countries on how best to help seniors with their long-term care needs.

Dr Khor said: "Our strategies to help our citizens prepare for longevity are a constant work-in-progress. They are reviewed and changed to adapt to evolving needs of Singaporeans, demographics, and societal challenges."

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