Paving the way for healthy and meaningful ageing

The new report by an international commission of experts provide recommendations that cuts across all generations and sectors of society to promote healthy and meaningful ageing

According to the World Health Organisation, 1 in 6 people in the world will be aged 60 years and older by the year 2030. Along with a rapidly ageing population, countries will face paradigm shifts in the needs of its people in areas such as healthcare, finance, and living environments.

Acting as a guide to help pave the way for healthier lifespans, the Global Roadmap for Healthy Longevity report was drafted by an international commission of experts appointed by the United States National Academy of Medicine (NAM). Recommendations in the report call for governments and all sectors of society to assist the elderly in ensuring meaningful and healthier longer years.

The comprehensive report was released in early June 2022 and a summit was held in Singapore on 25 August at the NUHS auditorium to publicise the report as part of the NAM’s dissemination strategy in Asia. The summit saw participation, virtually and physically, from at least 12 different countries including experts and stakeholders across public and private sectors.

The summit was co-hosted by the Ministry of Health (MOH), the National University Health System (NUHS), NUS, and the Tsao Foundation.

Professor John Eu-Li Wong, NUS Senior Vice President (Health Innovation & Translation) and Senior Advisor for NUHS, co-chaired the international commission together with Prof Linda Fried, Dean and DeLamar Professor, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health as well as Director, Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center.

Deputy Prime Minister and Coordinating Minister for Economic Policies Mr Heng Swee Keat, who was the Guest-of-Honour for the summit, noted that the report was most timely, and he was glad that the NAM has chosen Singapore to present the findings.

Giving examples of how Singapore is helping to support an ageing population, Mr Heng highlighted a project by NUS, the Housing & Development Board (HDB), and NUHS to develop Health District @ Queenstown.

“We are developing a suite of bold solutions in Queenstown to support residents in their journey towards healthy longevity, such as senior-friendly infrastructure, community-driven programmes, integrating health services into the community, and providing opportunities for seniors to stay active and engaged,” said Mr Heng.

Mr Heng also stressed the importance of taking “a holistic and human-centric approach in promoting the wellbeing of the elderly.”

Speaking at the event, Dr Victor Dzau, who is President of NAM, highlighted that based on current studies, “very few countries are really prepared to meet the needs and seize the opportunities of an ageing population”. This, as Dr Dzau explained, is what motivated NAM to “sound the alarm” and brainstorm how to “actively mobilise the leadership of different countries to address this issue”.

Focusing on the issue of health in ageing, Prof John Wong highlighted that “healthy longevity or the lack thereof is the result of the interactions of complex systems. That’s why it is so challenging, because multiple systems within society need to be activated, transformed, and coordinated.”

Charting the road ahead

The international commission identified the challenges and issues that an ageing society could face in the future and drew up four domains in which countries can look at to achieve healthy longevity. These four domains are: social infrastructure, physical environment, health systems, and the longevity dividend.

During the summit, various experts expounded upon these four domains and shared the commission’s proposed strategies and goals they hope countries will adopt and apply to support their elderly to live healthier years.

An Asian perspective to healthy longevity

Spirited discussions were held during the summit that saw experts working on various areas of ageing come together to share their perspectives and engage the audience on current research and policies in Asian countries to support healthy ageing. A consensus between the panellists was drawn that all levels of society and an integrated approach from governments and private entities is needed to achieve healthy longevity.

“We are at the point now that we need a holistic strategy where everyone is communicating with each other and trying to tackle problems in ageing that makes sense in a broader level and not just for their narrow area of science,” said Prof Brian Kennedy, Distinguished Professor from the Department of Biochemistry and Physiology under the NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine.

Pushing for a concerted effort across all generations and sectors of society, NAM hopes that healthy longevity can advance across the world through the recommendations in the report allowing for societies to reap the benefits and tap into the wealth of knowledge of older adults in the community.

“If we increase the health span and accomplish healthy longevity, societies can minimise individual and societal burdens of unhealthy longevity. Then we have the opportunity to make use of older people who are healthy for societies and individuals to benefit from the continued engagement of older adults in the communities and families,” said Prof Linda Fried.

“The commission has laid out recommendations for the next five years and we really urge every society to look at them and ask how can these help their own society because we believe the time for action is now,” said Prof Wong.