As Taiwan will become an "aged society" next year and "super-aged" in 2026, it is time we prepared ourselves, both psychologically and in terms of infrastructure, for a day when 1.3 people in work support every senior citizen, a situation that could come much sooner than expected as each senior is already supported by 6.5 people in work.
As such, we have to ask whether the government's "Long-term Care 2.0" program currently being implemented is fit for purpose? The answer is worrying, as can be seen from two recent fires at seniors homes in Xindian and Taoyuan that killed 6, injured 28 and caused four deaths and 11 injuries, respectively.
If fire and disaster prevention are too much to ask, how can we reasonably expect "quality" long-term care for seniors?
In addition to improving facilities for senior care, society also needs an attitude readjustment when it comes to "getting old."
Although the World Health Organization still defines old age at 65 years of age, average life expectancy in Taiwan has surpassed 80. This begs the question: should we stick to this outdated definition of "old age," or make adjustments based on the objective reality of our changing society?
We should also consider increasing the age of retirement from 65 which was decided last century. We are now in the 21st century, when 65-year-olds are often still in the prime of life physically, intellectually and in terms of life experience.
If individuals aged 65 and over are willing to remain in the workplace and thereby help out the younger generation by easing their tax burden, that would be an invaluable contribution.
For their part, seniors can continue to remain positive by keeping in contact with people of all ages, ensuring their days are busy and their minds happy.
From the perspective of public policy, delaying retirement helps to increase productivity and decrease the financial burden of supporting retirees, which in turn eases the tax burden on the younger generation.
In addition, if "retirees" choose to stay in the job market they can benefit from life-time learning. The new knowledge they acquire also contributes to their jobs and communities. Moreover, as they learn more there is less focus on aging.
Gerontologists tell us that many age-related diseases are actually psychological: if seniors are too busy to get sick, they will not have time to moan about aches and pains (physical and mental), which in turn saves finite health care resources.
That is why the World Health Organization (WHO) has for more than a decade promoted the idea of "active aging" -- encouraging people to live longer healthier lives, thereby delaying the time they spend in ill health unable to take care of themselves. Active learning and participation in community activities are a good way of achieving that goal.
Seniors in Europe are "really sick" for only two weeks to a month before they die while those in Taiwan are bed-ridden for seven years on average before passing away. Which society has done better in carrying out the WHO's "active aging" idea and minimizing the cost to their respective health care systems?
So, let's face our aging society positively and correctly by making good use of seniors' wisdom as in the movie "The Inturn," while also helping to make Taiwan a harmonious and sustainable country. (Editorial abstract -- March 12, 2017)
(By S.C. Chang)