Inaugural ROSA Annual Symposium on Successful Ageing
The Inaugural ROSA Annual Symposium on Successful Ageing was held on the 30th of November 2021 and was a hybrid event, taking place both virtually over Zoom and with a physical audience as well. The theme of the symposium was “New beginnings – enabling older adults to flourish in phase endemic.” The event was a large success, being one of the first in-person events held by SMU since the pandemic began and it illustrated the University’s concerted effort to transition to living with an endemic COVID-19. The symposium was also graced by many distinguished guests, most notably Minister for Manpower Dr Tan See Leng who was the guest of honor for the event, senior representatives from The Ngee Ann Kongsi, Professor Ursula Staudinger, Rector of the Technische Universität Dresden who was the keynote speaker for the symposium, and Professor Lily Kong, president of the Singapore Management University. In total, over 160 participants from over 32 organizations attended the symposium both physically and virtually.
- Opening speech
The symposium kicked off with an opening message by Professor Lily Kong who brought attention to the gravity of the need to support older adults both during the pandemic and as the country moved into the endemic phase of COVID-19. She highlighted a finding from the Singapore Life Panel® (SLP) that showed that over 80% of older adults surveyed in October 2021 either slightly agreed, agreed, or strongly agreed that they are worried about what living with endemic COVID-19 would mean, indicating that there are possible challenges for this demographic. According to Professor Kong, this need to support older adults during this trying period accentuates the importance of centres like ROSA that are able to provide timely advice to ministries on the policies most needed to support older adults.
- Guest of Honour’s address
Following the opening message by Professor Kong, Dr Tan See Leng, Minister for Manpower, provided his guest of honour’s address. You may view Dr Tan’s full speech here.
Presentations and Panels
- Segway to presentations and panels
After the opening segment began a series of presentations and panel discussions addressing different aspects of the issue of supporting older adult well-being as we move forward into the endemic phase of COVID-19. The presentations and panel discussions were split into 4 different sessions that took place over the day; the keynote presentation and panel, the economic well-being presentation and panel, the psychological well-being presentation and panel, and finally the social integration panel. Below are the summaries of the key points that were raised during each session.
- Keynote presentation by Professor Ursula Staudinger, Rector, Technische Universität Dresden
Professor Staudinger’s presentation focused on the point that human development and aging are not determined by biology and genetics alone but are rather dynamic, multilevel processes. A three-tier model explains the basis of plasticity, the modifiability of human development and ageing (within biological limits). The three tiers include organism, context, and person. While traditional models focus on the interaction between one’s biology and environment, this model explicitly adds the person as an agent in their own development (Staudinger 2020). Where individuals land in the spectrum of plasticity, ranging from positive to negative, is largely mediated by their resources, namely biological, psychological, socio-cultural, and environmental. It is possible to increase positive plasticity and slow cognitive decline through regular exposure to novelty and challenge, at work and at leisure, throughout the life course.
Below is a summary of Professor Staudinger’s key recommendations to promote the positive plasticity of human aging:
- Development of more systematic (bio-psycho-social), longitudinal, and comparative studies to better understand the barriers and facilitators to the positive plasticity of human aging
- Health promotion and sickness prevention across the lifespan to increase health span, or functional health, for all
- Education across the lifespan to ensure continuous learning and upskilling for all
- More versatile work biographies for all to experience different job roles and sectors
- Volunteering, family work, and neighborhood work as a means for older adults to remain socially integrated and sustain higher levels of well-being
- Development of intergenerational settings that allow younger and older members of societies to interact and impart knowledge and experience, not merely technological competence
- Keynote panel discussion
- Moderator: Professor Paulin Straughan, Director, ROSA
- Professor Ursula Staudinger, Rector, Technische Universität Dresden
- Mr James Teo, President, The Ngee Ann Kongsi
- Assistant Professor Kim Seonghoon, Deputy Director, ROSA
- Associate Professor William Tov, Deputy Director, ROSA
During the keynote panel, Professor Paulin Straughan presented the panelists with various findings drawn from the Singapore Life Panel on the topic of older adult well-being during the pandemic, and invited the panelists to comment on these findings.
One trend that ROSA observed over the course of the pandemic is that SLP respondents who report higher levels of neighborhood cohesion have generally had higher levels of well-being. ROSA also observed that the built environment has an impact on the perceived level of neighborhood cohesion for its respondents. Respondents with a greater number of neighborhood amenities within a 10-minute walking distance from their home were more likely to perceive that their neighborhood is more cohesive. In response to these findings, Professor Straughan invited the panelists to comment on how to best leverage on neighborhood and community resources, as well as on the built environment to improve and support older adult well-being in phase endemic:
- Dr Tov commented that ROSA’s findings underscore the importance of the social environment for older adults. In neighborhoods where there is a strong sense of cohesion, there might be more opportunities for social interaction, which benefits older adults in many ways.
- Mr Teo expressed deep concern about when and to what extent seniors can resume their daily lives, and in particular the community activities that have sustained their holistic well-being.
- Dr Kim shared that it is cost-effective for the Singapore government to invest in more neighborhood amenities because they create more opportunities for shared experiences between and within income groups, contributing to social cohesion.
- Professor Straughan, in reference to Professor Staudinger’s keynote presentation, shared that our efforts to protect and isolate seniors who are vulnerable to COVID-19 has contributed to their “negative plasticity” by way of depriving them of social activities that keep them cognitively and physically agile.
In August 2021, ROSA also found that close to 60% of employed older adults expressed concern over their job security. Further, in ROSA’s focus group discussions, various respondents reported experiencing discrimination while applying for a job due to their age. With the recent increase in retirement age, Professor Straughan asked the panelists to comment on how we can best leverage on the skillsets of older adults and explore new ways for older adults to participate meaningfully and productively in society:
Key discussion points
- Professor Staudinger, Professor Straughan, and Dr Tov all fundamentally agreed on the adoption of a new model, mindset, and set of work norms that center on the principles of lifelong learning and development.
- Mr Teo, speaking from a business owner’s perspective, shared that it is vital to employ older workers because of the expansion of life expectancy and the shortage of younger workers.
- Dr Kim asserted that top-down retraining programs targeted at older workers are fundamentally flawed because they are not designed from the perspectives of older workers.
- Job-rotation for employees within a company to ensure a continuous upgrading of skillsets and experiences
- Incentivizing employers to design and implement their own programs to employ and retain older workers
- Incentivizing employees to commit to upskilling
- Economic presentation by Assistant Professor Kim Seonghoon, Deputy Director, ROSA, and panel discussion