Without a generation of young people to care for the elderly, Singapore’s federal government is turning to the internet for help.
According to a new report in the Wall Street Journal, Singapore’s federal government will call upon private companies to place sensors all throughout publicly run senior homes to monitor residents’ activity levels and even their bathroom use.
Families can use these analytics to know in real-time when something goes wrong.
The plan is part of a much larger project called Smart Nation, started in 2014, that will turn Singapore into a so-called “smart city.” Data concerning traffic congestion, weather reports, smoking rates, and now elderly health are all reported back to the government.
While demographers say a country needs to have 2.2 kids per woman for its population to hold steady, Singapore has just 0.81. It’s the lowest in the world.
Just like in Japan, this absence of young people has led to an ageing Singaporean population that must spend its remaining years largely caring for itself. The country estimates the working-age population will start to shrink as early as 2020.
As a result, the traditional family structure — a mixture of young and old people all living under one roof — has started to fade away. Just last December, the first retirement village opened in Singapore, bucking the trend that the elderly typically only live in isolation when they’re sick. Today, it’s more by necessity.
The new sensors would give families that live remotely better access to their older relatives’ health.
According to WSJ, private companies selected by the government would install the sensors all throughout people’s living quarters, such as in their appliances and toilet. Real-time data on their movement patterns, sedentary behaviour, and number of flushes would then get sent back to the company to be pushed to individual families via text message.
One woman told the WSJ the app’s alerts about her mother’s behaviour have given her peace of mind, and that neither she nor her mother feel like they are being unfairly tracked. But there are some who are concerned about privacy and the dangers of so much data being vulnerable to theft.
Singapore’s solution, while innovative, may also not be the most sustainable. If the working-age population is set to start disappearing in only four years, giving more information about the elderly isn’t a solution. The country needs more young people.
Unfortunately, a mixture of financial insecurity and poor support from employers has led people away from prioritising starting a family.
To combat the trend, Singapore has taken some pretty drastic measures, including hosting a “National Night” in 2012, in which couples were encouraged “to let their patriotism explode.” Each year, Singapore spends roughly $1.6 billion to get people to have more sex.
The most effective solution, however, may be to do away with strict and poorly enforced parental leave policies in favour of a “nanny state” model, like in Finland and France. While Singapore may already be highly centralised — more than 80% of people live in government housing — support for new parents seems to be of special concern.
In other words, installing sensors in the elderly’s toilets is creative and no doubt helpful, but it won’t solve the much bigger problems Singapore will face decades down the line.