Not yet a grey head, lawyer and politician Hri Kumar Nair says he has been thinking a lot about growing old. When he walks around Toa Payoh, the elderly population in the area strikes a chord in him.
“My constituency of Toa Payoh has many elderly residents. They sit in the market, the parks or void decks. It is good when they are with their friends, but in many cases, they sit alone, sometimes nursing a cup of coffee they never seem to drink,” says the Bishan-Toa Payoh GRC’s MP.
“At the grassroots level, we organise many activities to keep older residents active and engaged. Those who participate tend to get involved in several activities. But there is a number who remain disengaged. And they are usually men.”
He wonders why the numerous activities the grassroots members organise are usually attended by women. According to him, his team holds health screenings for the elderly regularly.
“The women tend to have stronger social circles, and it is usual to see them attend community activities in groups. They also have stronger bonds with their children. You see very few of them sitting alone.”
But for men, it is a different world altogether. They are the traditional breadwinner for the family, he says.
“Their efforts enabled their children to be better educated and to lead better lives than theirs. In retirement, many have a roof but few or no social circles or interests.
“Some sadly have families who now do not care much for them. As they grow older, they become less inclined to try new things or meet new people.”
Perhaps because of this, he has been thinking about his own golden years.
“Some day, I will no longer be in politics and my current job. I will retire at a time when my daughter (hopefully) goes to university and becomes more independent. Much of what defines me now will fade. I too may be spending the remainder of my life watching the world pass me by.”
He does not discount financial security but feels that many elderly today “still need a reason to get up every morning”. Though many elderly today enjoy the company of their children, he thinks that the next generation may not have that luxury.
“We spend the first third of our lives studying hard and educating ourselves. We do this so that we can succeed in the careers we have in our second third. But we hardly do anything to prepare ourselves for the final third.
“Retirement from our jobs should signal the start of the next phase of our lives, and not the end of life altogether. But it will only be so if we plan carefully and early about what we are going to do, because that time will arrive sooner than we think.”