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The median age in Singapore has increased from 19.5 in 1970 to 40 in 2016. In comparison, the total fertility rate has suffered a drastic drop from 3.07 to 1.24 over the same time frame. What does this mean for Singapore, you ask? People are older, there are less babies, and so there is a bigger burden placed on the younger generation in terms of caring for their sickly parents and grandparents.
Is this really true? Maybe so. Admittedly, many of us have negative perceptions of growing old. White hair, wrinkled skin, creaky joints and a stack of medical bills taller than our hunchbacked, walking-stick-wielding selves. But take a look around your community, and maybe you’ll see something else. I never really noticed this until I interacted with the elderly in my neighbourhood.
There is a short, sweet little lady who rides her bicycle everywhere and makes amazing Chinese and Malay desserts. She loves her red cap and jean shorts, and looks not a day over fifty – but she’s nearing seventy.
An adorable old couple shows up for neighbourhood events and outings every so often. They are already in their 80s, but I’ve never seen their hands unclasped as they effortlessly keep up with the younger – well, relatively – people.
I know a woman well in her seventies who line dances every friday in the square outside the supermarket. Her husband walks over an hour to buy groceries from a wet market four kilometers away. Another man walks rounds around his block every morning. My grandmother in her wheelchair, who loves carrot cake and fried noodles.
It’s easy to dread growing old, to want to live in your youth forever. It’s easy to think of the elderly as frail, weak, incapable beings who are in and out of hospitals all the time. But I think we need to truly see the people behind the images we have formed of them.