FORMER SEN. EDGARDO J. ANGARA
Sen. Angara was the longest serving senator in the post-EDSA Senate. Described by the late President Corazon Aquino as “the face of decent Philippine politics abroad,” he is also considered by many as the father of healthcare for authoring the National Health Insurance Act (PhilHealth) and the Senior Citizens Act, among the many landmark laws he has authored.
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Though the Philippines is still considered relatively young, the projected doubling of our senior citizen population by 2025 underscores the urgent need to prepare for the anticipated high financial costs of elderly healthcare, reform our pension systems, and rethink our views on old-age work and retirement. Hopefully, our leaders pay heed and jumpstart policy discussions right now.
The upcoming challenges may be daunting, but technological advancements across the world are demonstrating today how societies could be transformed in the future into truly nurturing environments where senior citizens remain healthy, independent and ultimately productive citizens.
For instance, with the advent of the “Internet of things,” homes across the United States are now being equipped with appliances that monitor real-time the activities of senior citizens and allow their loved ones to remotely check whether they’ve taken their medication, eaten their meals, or even suffered certain injuries from falling. Such applications are particularly suited for sufferers of Alzheimer’s or dementia.
Wearable devices and smartphones can now transmit in real time a senior’s health data—from blood pressure to glucose levels—to their attending physicians. By eliminating the need for constant face-to-face check-ups with doctors, such telehealth applications actually help bring down the cost of elderly healthcare.
In fact, since 2013, Royal Philips and Banner Health have implemented in the United States an Intensive Ambulatory Care (IAC) Program, where the vital signs of patients—many of whom are seniors—suffering from complex chronic conditions are monitored by teams of medical specialists via Internet-enabled machines. Within six months of implementation, the program had reduced healthcare costs by 27 percent—particularly by reducing hospitalization rates, shortening hospital stay lengths and scaling back on the need to pay for professional and outpatient services.
Meanwhile, new flexible work arrangements, mostly enabled by the Internet, have already opened up job opportunities for young freelancers. There is no reason that stay-at-home old-timers can’t work in some of these jobs, especially with some retraining and retooling of skills.
On the other hand, breakthroughs with driverless cars are now reaching critical mass. Recently, the first self-driving truck, owned by tech company Uber, made its first commercial delivery in Colorado, United States—navigating 190 kilometers of open highways between Fort Collins and Colorado Springs, although with a trained driver monitoring from the back seat.
It will probably take years, even decades, before the world’s streets start seeing entire fleets of self-driving cars. But analysts have underscored that such autonomous mobility has far-reaching implications—especially for senior citizens who have difficulty getting around by themselves.
To be sure, these technological advances may take some time before reaching the Philippines. But the fact that they are already taking place elsewhere ought to help us adopt a more positive and hopeful view when it comes to societal aging.