Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A village in which to retire, perchance to dream

This is among the lifestyle alternatives that S’pore’s ageing population will need

Lush, manicured lawns. Bubbling fountains. Bright, beautiful homes fitted with state-of- the-art living equipment. Residents strolling in the evening light.

Not an advertisement for a high-end residential development but, rather, a real-life retirement village for older folk with good access to medical care.

While not yet a reality in Singapore – though incarnations exist in abundance in the US, Europe and Australia – such a development is something society here will need sooner rather than later.

A recent study by the Lien Foundation revealed that Singaporeans’ greatest fear is to be a burden to their family and friends. Among their top five wishes is to spend their final days at home, but with medical and nursing support nearby.

With the local population fast ageing – almost half are in the 35-64 age group – and with this generation being more affluent and educated, there is a growing need for alternative lifestyle choices for the elderly.

A retirement village, or community, is one such alternative. Such communities are planned for the retired or older folk, and have special facilities catering to their needs and wants, which include extensive amenities like clubhouses, swimming pools, and golf courses, as well as on-site medical facilities.

These cater to the wishes of the older folk who prefer to live on their own, with their spouse, or those who have no children in Singapore to look after them.

One person who feels the need for a retirement village here is Stefanie Yuen Thio, who jointly manages TSMP Law Corporation with her husband, Senior Counsel Thio Shen Yi. Mrs Thio, who is in her late 30s, tells BT: ‘One of the things that people drive home over and over again when they hear that I have only one child is that he will be saddled with having to look after both his parents in his old age. I don’t want that.’

‘When Shen and I grow old, we want our son and our grandchildren to want to spend time with us, but not to have to look after our daily living needs. We want (our son) Jonathan to have the freedom to develop his potential and follow his dreams wherever that may lead. I know I am not alone in this,’ she says.

She’s not. Adrian Tan, a lawyer with Drew & Napier and author of well-known local novels, The Teenage Textbook and The Teenage Workbook, has been thinking a lot about how he’s going to spend his retirement days, now that he’s left his teenage years well behind him.

The 43-year-old, who is married but does not have children, says a retirement community is the most attractive option for him.

‘If we are lucky enough to have good health, my wife and I want to spend our days being active – travelling, learning and being among like-minded people,’ he says.

Mr Tan is drawn to the retirement communities in the West – in the United States, especially, where there are hundreds of well-established retirement community programmes spread out across the country. Such communities have made luxury and independence for their residence a big business.

‘I would really like to remain independent – that’s a big thing for me. Even for those who have children to look after them, these older folk are sometimes tolerated, put in the smallest room in the house, their activities dictated by the rest of the family,’ Mr Tan says.

‘I would like to preserve my independence, be able to spend my days with my wife as we please, stay in a well-appointed place designed for folks like me, but without the vibe of a nursing home,’ he adds.

Mrs Thio’s thoughts echo that: ‘I think I, and others like me, would like to have the option of living in an assisted living facility. It would be more a condo with extra amenities and services than an old age home. Everyone has their own serviced apartment, but with extra services.

‘And it’s not just about medical care. I think this sort of planning and infrastructure is important for the fabric of our families. When someone is unable to take care of his sick parent, and has to move him into a nursing home, there is often a great deal of financial sacrifice that he has to make just to pay for it. And yet the aged parent feels abandoned and resentful. This drives a terrible wedge into the relationship at a time when the bonds need to be strongest.’

‘We need to have facilities in place where elderly folks can grow old with dignity and grace, not as some invalid in a nursing home in a dormitory with five other beds,’ Mrs Thio says.

But will such a retirement village become a reality in Singapore in the near future? A quick check by BT with the major property developers here indicate a reluctance to venture into such a project – with profitability and legislative issues being their main concerns.

Hopes for a retirement village rest on one man: property developer and former chief of the Real Estate Developers’ Association of Singapore (Redas), Daniel Teo, who has made it his life mission to build such a retirement community in Singapore.

The 66-year-old, who is married to former ballerina Goh Soo Khim, has four children and six grandchildren. But he’s sensitive to the needs of others who don’t have so many offspring.

‘Families are getting smaller, these days. Children study and then work abroad and are separated from their parents. More and more young people are choosing to not get married, not have families,’ he told BT.

‘I feel for a lot of seniors, who have been driven out of their homes by en bloc sales, and those whose children don’t live close to home. I would like to have a community where the older folk can live independently – preferably with some middle-aged people as well – along with assisted care and even a nursing home; several stages together.’

‘There is definitely a need for a retirement community here,’ Mr Teo said. ‘But yes, there are issues that need to be worked out – laws that need to be developed.’

Source: Business Times, 23 Dec 2009

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