First, the good news. As we progress through the 21st century, gains in nutrition, medicine, and health mean that human beings are living far longer than ever before. This means that as we continue to advance into the 21st century, more and more health workers specialising in geriatric care will be needed. Why? Because despite the fact that so many people are now living well into their senior years, not enough are doing so with vitality. Living more years unfortunately does not translate into healthy ageing for everybody. Longer living means living with chronic illnesses, dementia, and disability created by the loss of mobility, vision, and hearing. These issues will in turn lead to increased expenses and strain on existing support services.
These concerns about an upcoming epidemic of senior health problems aren’t only going to be affecting certain parts of the world. Singapore will also be experiencing this senior health crunch, and residents of all ages may be exposed to it in less than a decade. At the National Seminar on Productivity in Healthcare earlier this month, keynote speaker Health Minister Gan Kim Yong warned that in order to insure healthy aging for its elder population, Singapore needs to see an influx of 30,000 healthcare workers over the next three years. Specialists in geriatric medicine and nurses with experience in supervising clinics will especially be in demand.
Singapore has built six new health care clinics to accommodate this need for increased medical care, and in addition to creating bed space in public hospitals for thousands of new patients, it’s estimated that almost 10,000 more patients will be seeking treatment at smaller community hospitals and nursing homes. Almost another 8,000 Singapore residents will be seeking care within their homes and day-use facilities. And in addition to a need for specialists to facilitate healthy ageing, the demand for specialists in palliative (end of life) care is expected to be on the rise as well.
While this would seem like a wonderful opportunity out there for students and health care workers in other positions, Singapore’s labour market is already experiencing a shortage of qualified workers to insure the continuing vitality of Singapore’s ageing population. And as elsewhere in the developed world, household sizes are shrinking, meaning that there will be fewer family members to assist with elder care. To combat this, Gan indicated that the government would be taking a “community” approach to geriatric care. For example, “assisted living programmes ” currently popular in the United States and Europe will be expanded in Singapore. With assisted living, seniors are able to remain in their own homes and live independently, with help from relatives and caregivers. Research shows that seniors in such an arrangement are mentally sharper and have fewer physical health problems than those in more geriatric care settings. Gan also said current nurses nearing retirement age will be encouraged to extend working both to train new caregivers and to help seniors adjust to community living programmes .
And in addition to increased emphasis on these new initiatives, Gan said the government would place new emphasis on geriatric nursing training with new programming to accommodate these new waves of Singapore residents.