As Singapore's ageing population increases in size, it becomes imperative to design safe yet innovative living spaces. Here's how Panasonic's housing solutions for the elderly in Japan can be an inspiration.
Compared to 2017, the number of persons aged 60 or above is expected to more than double by 2050 and more than triple by 2100, rising from 962 million globally in 2017 to 2.1 billion in 2050 and 3.1 billion in 2100. In 2015, Singapore's population grew to 5.5 million, while the number of citizens 65 years old and above jumped to 440,000. These figures will only increase given how fewer marriages, rising number of divorces, low birth rates and growth of nuclear families widen the gap between the number of elderly and those capable of caring for them.
With many senior citizens desiring personal space, freedom, better healthcare, effective social services and home ownership, it is necessary to focus on providing them with a certain quality of life that is progressive and, at the same time, empathetic. To meet these aspirations, certain measures have been initiated by the Singapore government to make the future sustainable for this older age group.
One of the recent initiatives is the S$3 billion Action Plan for Successful Ageing with diverse programmes to improve access to roads, make buses wheelchair-compliant and install elevators at critical pedestrian overhead bridges by 2018 while developing eldercare facilities by 2020.
Though the government has established pro-senior citizen housing policies, the Housing Board's Enhancement for Active Seniors programme (Ease) has, since 2012, encouraged retrofitting the homes of the elderly. While grab bars and slip-resistant floor tiles in the bathrooms have been installed to eliminate falls and injuries, ramps of a certain height have been erected at entrances to facilitate mobility. In addition, the Housing Board has also offered up to 95 percent subsidies on renovations via this scheme.
Since 2016, "smart" apartments for the aged have also been equipped with lever taps, grasp-friendly door handles, plug points and sockets at lower levels to facilitate easy access to the disabled and adequate data points have been included to ensure swift response of caregivers in the event of an unresponsive senior citizen.
While retrofitting has been prevalent till recently, it is just a matter of time before the next step is taken - integrating elderly-compliant interior design with the early residence construction plans such that these homes are equipped from the beginning to enable people to grow old in a familiar space while continuing to be actively engaged in society. Such thinking envisions better accessibility, greater mobility and enhanced infrastructure to reduce isolation for the elderly, while ensuring their safety and security. This is exactly what Panasonic has been doing in Japan.
Citizens aged 65 years or older now comprise over a quarter of Japan's 127.1 million population. To cater to them, Panasonic has designed and equipped homes with a range of beds, toilets and showers that empower and enable independent living.
By blending knowledge of architecture and long-term care, Panasonic and its team of 'living environment planners' collaborate with doctors, therapists, nurses, helpers and public administrators to renovate homes according to the physical condition of residents. Examples include homes with handrails, sliding doors and barrier-free kitchens. In fact, the company has also developed a bed that folds into a wheelchair, designed robots which assist seniors and invented showers that reduce water consumption while simultaneously offering a full-body wash experience. Chairs fitted to the wall shower panels enable the elderly to bathe while being seated thereby minimising accidents on slippery floors.
Not just that, in catering to the entire spectrum of caregiving for the aged, Panasonic and Fujitsu have teamed up to design an in-home monitoring service that combines the functionalities of the air conditioner and the non-contact life-sign sensors - a feature that is essential when senior citizens live on their own.
It's not surprising then that Panasonic has built a reputation for itself when it comes to designing useful living spaces for the aged. Be it retrofitting a home or building afresh for senior citizens, both options require significant focus on the residents' safety. Designs also need to take in account the physical conditions of seniors such as changes in grip strength, posture and field of vision.
Like Japan, many Asian countries including Singapore are facing the same demographic challenge of a rising ageing population. It is therefore critical to address the needs of seniors from multiple fronts. Revisiting public housing policy is just the first step. If the goal is to eliminate barriers and ensure the well-being of residents while decreasing their reliance on caregivers, building suitable homes for the elderly is essential. Japan's experience with creating such environments can thus inspire housing providers in Singapore.
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