During the course of 2014, our Singapore team has taken a deep dive into the subject of “ageing in Asia”, identifying a series of myths about the continent’s older citizens, and then debunking them. This is the final instalment. The other five can be found here.
Myth #6: “Getting older means becoming helpless”
Jeremy Sy writes: Most people in the Asia-Pacific region still buy into the idea that they’re responsible for the care and support of their elders, whether or not they feel personally capable of doing so. According to The Futures Company’s Global MONITOR research, 69% of people in the region believe that “elderly people in their country are expected to be looked after by family and friends.” This sense of responsibility towards elders is admirable in many contexts. But one unexpected consequence of it is the belief that older people are helpless – that as a person ages, their role in society diminishes, becoming primarily characterized by dependence.
Asia’s seniors would disagree. People age 50+ in the region see themselves as both healthy and independent, and as agents of change who can make a difference. Two-thirds of Asians 50+ think that “elderly people in their country are likely to be making a valuable contribution to society.”
As a necessary first step to remaining – or becoming – agents of change in society, Asia’s elders are doing what they can to take care of themselves. 65% of people age 50+ in Asia say that they are constantly striving to improve themselves in as many ways as possible. By actively taking such steps, they’re not just managing to keep the deterioration that can come with ageing at bay, they’re actually becoming better with age, in body, mind and spirit.
Emboldened by a sense of personal empowerment, many older people in Asia also feel empowered to make a difference in their communities, and even to the wider world. 63% of over-50s in the region feel they can make a difference to the world through the choices they make and they actions they take. Given this, it’s not surprising that, according to our Global MONITOR research, older consumers in Asia are more likely than their juniors to emphasize buying ethically and locally produced goods in their everyday shopping.
Bigger bolder statements
Beyond everyday shopping and consumption decisions, Asia’s seniors are making bigger, bolder statements that they can still make a difference. With one of the oldest populations in the world, it’s not surprising that the most striking examples of older people making a difference for themselves and their communities come from Japan. Perhaps the most dramatic instance of this came in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear crisis: The Skilled Veteran Corps – a group of more than 200 retired engineers and other professionals, all over the age of 60 – volunteered to take care of the troubled nuclear power station. They felt they both had the expertise needed to manage the situation, and that radiation exposure posed less of a risk to them than to younger people.
Japan’s older people are making themselves count in emergency situations like Fukushima, and also in everyday, but still important, situations. Koreikyo, or seniors’ co-operatives, address the country’s need to provide good care to its oldest citizens in a way that engages and promotes the wellbeing of its younger seniors: “In the Koreikyo model, the active elderly (roughly 55 to 75 years old) provide care for the frail elderly (generally 75 and older) in the care receiver’s own home through the co-operative’s home-helper dispatch centers.”
As Asia ages, it will be increasingly important for businesses to engage with older Asians as active partners, not just in their own care, but also in helping each other, and in creating a better world.
The image at the top of this post, of Japanese women, is by Flickr user MrHicks46, and is reused here, unaltered, under a Creative Commons licence. The full series of Myths on Ageing Asia can be accessed here.