Embracing an ageing population

opinion August 20, 2017 01:00

By Yoshihiro Suwa
Special to The Nation

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As economies mature, the country’s population will age as well, and Thailand will be no different, as she becomes a high income nation. There are already early warning signs. 



The government whitepaper “Insights on Digitalisation of Thailand Industry” that was recently published, said that in 1985, only 6 per cent of the population (3.2 million people) were aged 60 and above. That figure has since risen an alarming threefold to 10.7 million in 2015, surpassing global and Asia Pacific averages. This has great implications on Thailand’s infrastructure and healthcare facilities. 

As a society ages, the first clear impact will be overcrowding at healthcare facilities and aged homes. This is likely to decentralise medical infrastructure, where the only the most critical cases result in hospitalisation, while recovery at home becomes the most cost-effective option. 

As available eldercare spaces are reduced, the second difficulty will be the lack of caregivers either at home, or at professional facilities. As more and more Thais become older, demand for caregivers will rise, but supply may not be so easily increased, given the training and experience needed. Another unintended consequence is that professionals may have to reduce their working capacities to care for their parents in the event they cannot afford caregiver fees, which may escalate given strong demand. 

Last but not least, infrastructure may be inadequate to accommodate an ageing population. An elderly population will be immobile with stairs and won’t just need lifts, but a complete revamp of the current infrastructure that facilitates mobility. Cars may require ramps, while buses will need spaces for wheelchairs. Houses will need to be barrier free for ease of mobility and will need to be equipped with infrastructure – communication and physical – that enables third parties to check on elderly Thais at their homes, yet prevent intrusiveness. 

Private sector implications and solutions 

While policymakers have had the foresight to initiate the creation and ideation of digital tools that will help improve quality of life as people enter their golden years, it would do equally well to identify changes to physical infrastructure, to answer these challenges. To spread the financing costs, a myriad of public-private partnership models can be explored. 

Equally, the private sector must ready themselves for the reality of an elderly workforce. In the long-term, elderly employment is likely to be the norm. This will not only help Thai people extend their income longevity and keep them active – which will prevent physical and mental deterioration – it could also tap a workforce segment with a wealth of knowledge. Additionally, relearning programmes can be created for elderly Thais seeking reemployment, while jobs can be matched upon successful certification. 

New insurance products could be created that target eldercare at short- and long-term facilities. Insurers can partner with these facilities, or co-invest so their own subscribers can secure places when the need arises. Insurers can also provide rebates for subscribers who actively take preventative measures such as exercising and eating well. 

Most importantly, an ageing workforce means a declining workforce. In this context, productivity must rise. Automation and technologies that enable people to do more with the same amount of time – such as the envisioned direct brain-to-text technologies – will become essentials in the workforce of the future. In this future scenario, retraining will become essential not only for the elderly workforce, but also for the workforce who may have been displaced by automation. 

Yoshihiro Suwa is Partner at Roland Berger, a global consulting firm, and leads healthcare consulting in Southeast Asia. In collaboration with Huawei, Roland Berger developed the recent whitepaper “Insights on Digitalisation of Thailand Industry”, for the Ministry of Digital Economy and Society, and Ministry of Science and Technology of Thailand.