Second Policy Roundtable: In Recovery: Older Adults And The Transition Into The New Normal

Second Policy Roundtable: In Recovery: Older Adults And The Transition Into The New Normal
1pm to 3pm


In Recovery: Older Adults and the Transition into the New Normal

The Centre for Research on Successful Ageing’s (ROSA) second Policy Roundtable, titled “In Recovery: Older Adults and the Transition into the New Normal”, was themed around COVID-19’s impact on the four key domains of older adult’s well-being. Held on 3rd March 2021, the virtual roundtable was attended by more than 50 participants from various government ministries, organisations, and charity groups.   

The roundtable featured presentations by ROSA’s researchers on the health, economic, social and psychological trends of older adults in 2020 and sought to provide evidence-based policy recommendations to bridge the gaps in Singapore’s post-COVID-19 recovery.  

Mr Stephen Hoskins, Principal Research Associate at ROSA, first provided participants with an introduction to the Singapore Life Panel and an overview of well-being trends among older adults in 2020. Some of his key findings shared include:  

  1. Older Singaporeans’ economic and overall life satisfaction declined significantly during the circuit breaker, and overall life satisfaction remains below pre-COVID-19 levels.  

  2. Participation in social activities sharply declined during the circuit breaker, and have improved since the easing of restrictions.  

  3. Seniors have increasingly adopted the use digital communication over the last six months.  

  4. While only 4% of seniors were laid off due to COVID-19, close to a third experienced a cut in their working hours, and one in five were forced to take unpaid leave.  

Dr Xuan Zhang, Assistant Professor at Singapore Management University (SMU), was first to present her findings on the 1 year impact of COVID-19 on economic outcomes. Using January 2020 as the point of reference, Dr Zhang shared that household consumption spending fell by 10% at the start of the pandemic, and by more than 25% during the circuit breaker.  Additionally, the decline in household income, can be traced to the lower levels of labour income, employment, and full-time employment rates which have been observed since the start circuit breaker. Further, while consumption spending declined across all income groups, wealthier households reduced their spending to a greater extent. Dr Zhang posits that several factors have led to the reduction in spending: 

  1. Due to the lockdown and risk avoidance behaviours, seniors are less likely to leave their homes, and spend less on public transportation.  

  2. Greater economic uncertainty brought about by COVID-19 has encouraged an increase in household savings during this period. 

  3. Income losses have led to a reduction in consumption spending, and those who did not experience any income losses have opted to channel their money away from spending and towards their savings instead.  

Based on these findings, Dr Zhang emphasizes the critical role of the government’s support policies in maintaining household consumption level. She recommends that future subsidies should be awarded based on household income, and highlights the importance of alleviating the uncertainties surrounding the pandemic and economy in the effort to stimulate the economy.   

The second presentation at the roundtable was given by Dr William Tov, Deputy Director at ROSA, on the psychological resilience of older Singaporeans after the circuit breaker. Dr Tov posits the relationship between resilience and well-being to be bidirectional, in which greater resilience strengthens one’s well-being, and higher levels of well-being also contributes to a person’s psychological resilience. He found that:  

  1.  A majority of older Singaporeans had moderately high levels of resilience 

  2. Higher levels of resilience were associated the wealthy, more educated, and males 

  3. Declines in well-being during the circuit breaker were found to be associated with older Singaporeans’ resilience.  

  4. The one-year average of subjective health and social satisfaction levels were strongly predictive of older Singaporeans’ resilience.  

At the end of his presentation, Dr Tov underscored the importance of maintaining high levels of health and social satisfaction and urged policy makers to develop sustainable support structures which would allow for them. Further, the importance of social relationships to one’s resilience demonstrates that psychological resilience is not solely a personal trait, but one that can be built up on through strong social support and interaction.     

Dr Kim Seonghoon, Deputy Director at ROSA, delivered the third presentation on the health impacts of COVID-19 on older adults. He argues that the delayed access to health care during COVID-19 poses as a credible threat to well-being of seniors in view of the adverse long-term health consequences which may result from the delayed diagnosis and treatment ailments. Between January 2020 and April 2020, visits to the doctor declined by 31%. During the same period, a similar fall in the diagnosis of chronic conditions was also observed. Dr Kim alludes the decline to chronic condition diagnosis to the delays in diagnosis and testing as it is unlikely that senior citizens’ health improved during the pandemic. Household spending on healthcare had also decreased by 23% in April 2020 compared to the pre-pandemic level, which was driven largely by the declines in inpatient and outpatient care. In light of these trends, Dr Kim emphasized the need to: 

  1. Monitor the long-term health consequences associated with COVID-19’s disruption to healthcare access 

  2. Adopt policies that would avoid the interruption of essential healthcare services (e.g., supporting and promoting tele-health services on a larger scale, and educating patients with chronic conditions on self-care) 

In the final presentation, Professor Paulin Straughan, Director of ROSA, touched on the social well-being of older adults in the time of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic’s unprecedented disruption to everyday life has heightened the sense of loneliness among the older Singaporeans, particularly among those living alone, and consequently, lowered well-being. She shared that: 

  1. The trends in well-being and feelings of social isolation demonstrate that seniors living alone have fared significant worse than those who lived with others through the course of 2020 

  2. Greater participation in social activities and more frequent use of digital communication effectively mitigate feelings of loneliness and directly improve seniors’ well-being.  

Prof Straughan notes that these findings highlight the importance of ensuring that seniors remain socially active and integrated. Policies aimed towards increasing the number of physical social activities and improving the tech literacy of seniors to empower them to stay connected, such as the Senior Go Digital Programme, are key points of intervention that would safeguard their well-being and should continually be built upon. Additionally, the increased precarity of seniors living alone suggests that different groups of seniors have different degrees and types of needs. Thus, a targeted approach towards policy interventions should be taken to ensure that these interventions are able to effectively improve the well-being of seniors.  

In Professor Straughan’s closing remarks, she emphasized the importance of securing a stable income for older Singaporeans, the need to leverage on new opportunities surfaced by the pandemic (such as telehealth care), the power of social connections in strengthening resilience, and the importance of building a strong community that facilitates the social integration of all older adults in Singapore’s transition into a post COVID-19 world.  

Following the presentations, the Q&A session led to a lively discussion on possible ways to address the dips in well-being, policy implications of an older workforce, and the groups of seniors who may be more vulnerable. Participants also posed insightful suggestions on specific groups of seniors which would benefit from a closer examination. 

We would like to thank all attendees for their support and active participation, and look forward to seeing you at our next event! 

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