Thu, Nov 02, 2017 - Page 8 News List

Policy for elderly not limited to healthcare

By Chiou Tian-juh 邱天助

The greatest change and challenge that the nation faces in the 21st century is that Taiwanese society is becoming a “hyper-aged” society. In addition to a rapid increase in the aging population, there is the more obvious effect of the significant increase in average life expectancy.

Ministry of the Interior statistics released at the end of February show that the aging population — 13.33 percent — has surpassed the young population — 13.31 percent — for the first time. Taiwan is to become a “hyper-aged” society in 2026, with its aging population making up 20 percent of the whole, estimates by the National Development Council show.

It is not only the rapid increase in the number of octogenarians and nonagenarians, either. The growth of the centenarian population is astonishing, too, increasing by 44 percent between 2010 and 2015, meaning that 12.1 people in every 100,000 is aged over 100.

However, it seems that Taiwanese are totally unprepared for the coming of the hyper-aged society. People still dread aging and subscribe to the myth of longevity. The nation’s mindset, systems, medical care, lifestyles, work, society, culture and policy are not prepared for the sheer amount of elderly people, who are to make up one-fifth of the population in eight years’ time.

Not only this, but Taiwanese have always exaggerated the seriousness of older people’s problems.

The council’s research shows that by 2061, the percentage of people having dementia in Taiwan is to be less than 5 percent: This often prevents Taiwanese from seeing the other 95 percent. A 2012 survey shows that only 5 to 10 percent of elderly people in the community have limited self-care ability and need others’ assistance, but this makes Taiwanese ignore the other 90 percent.

According to 2014 statistics gathered by the Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Directorate-General of Budget, Accounting and Statistics, Taiwanese spend an average of 8.7 years of their lives in a poor state of health, but Taiwanese equate poor health with being bedridden.

Government policy for older people has been developed from the perspective of viewing old age in terms of the problems it can entail, with disability and long-term care as the policy’s main focus, as if the best policy for older people is just to find somewhere for them to be while we wait for them to die.

Budget allocation and governance are focused solely on better equipping the places where older people wait for death to come. This means that they spend their last years in anticipation of the end, which is hardly a healthy place to be.

“Purposeful aging,” promoted by the Milken Institute’s Center for the Future of Aging since last year, maintains that the key to successful aging is for older people to live purposeful, significant and productive lives and that this is also the most effective way to resolve the issue fundamentally.

The UN Principles for Older Persons says that no one should be left behind, hoping to create a society that is shared by all age groups.

As the population structure changes and the nation’s aging population continues to increase, the government should consider the needs of older people.

Measures, including housing, transportation, employment, medical services, healthcare, infrastructure, social protection, gender equality and intergenerational cohesion, should be put forward to maintain and enhance the productivity of older people, allowing them to live in an autonomous, dignified world, but also permitting young people to envision, without panic or anxiety, what their future lives would be like.

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