A tale of two cities

The global phenomenon of what some are calling a “silver tsunami” – a population boom of an elderly generation aged 65 and above – is beginning to appear in most of the developed countries’ demography, no less in Singapore. To meet our changing demographic demands, our physical and social infrastructures have to be developed to meet the needs of the coming generation of elderly and create an all-inclusive society.

Understanding the need for a socially-sustainable design model, CPG Healthcare (which is based in Singapore and specialises in designing and delivering creative, innovative and sustainable healthcare buildings in Asia) initiated an architectural practice-based research study in a three-part series, comparing the two similar Asian cities of Hong Kong and Singapore, to develop a sustainable design approach for the coming generation of seniors. This article will touch on Part 1 – the learning from Hong Kong, while subsequent articles will delve into Singapore and what was learned from looking at the two cities:


Part 1: Learning from Hong Kong

Being a globalised Asian society, Hong Kong’s societal context bears much resemblance to that of Singapore. Currently, Hong Kong’s elderly comprises 14 percent of their overall population, accounting for 996,000 people out of a total population size of seven million, according to statistics. This is ahead of Singapore’s elderly population that stands at 12 percent currently, or 600,000 people out of a population of five million.

In Hong Kong, there is an “Elderly Commission” (EC), an advisory board to the Hong Kong Government that conducts all-rounded investigations on the impact of this graying phenomenon in the country. The members are from a variety of backgrounds providing insights on policies, and promoting services and facilities to the Government.

Several policies pushed forward by the EC were adopted into a social welfare structure and managed by the Hong Kong Council of Social Services. Currently, 90 percent of the elderly population in Hong Kong receives care within their homes, and the remaining distribution of seven percent and three percent receive care at community care centres and institutions respectively. To achieve their broad strategy, a standardised assessment tool was developed to identify the varied physical and cognitive abilities of an elderly individual, as well as their financial means and assets.

The elderly person would be provided a proposed referral to address their housing needs and care preferences. This has encouraged private organisations to develop a range of housing options for seniors, ensuring that the diverse needs of the population can be met through differentiating levels of care and allowing the elderly to remain engaged with the community regardless of their level of dependency, facilitating the process of “ageing-in-place”.

An example of the Hong Kong system can be seen in the seamless collaboration by the Hong Kong Housing Society (HKHS) and the Senior Citizens’ Home Safety Association (SCHSA) creating a two-pronged approach that allows for the elderly to age-in-place comfortably. HKHS is a non-Government, non-profit organisation that supports the Hong Kong Housing Authority in providing affordable and quality housing for the society. HKHS pioneered the Elderly Resource Centre as a free service used as a vital stepping stone in educating and promoting elder-friendly home environments to the public and interested developers. HKHS acts as an assessment agency and solution that allows for the personalised tailoring of eldercare within the home environment with the Elderly Resource Centre as a social initiative funded by financial returns from other residential projects of HKHS.

The Elderly Resource Centre is managed by a team of occupational therapists, social workers and environmental gerontologists, and the aim is to promote ageing-in-place to the community and support the elderly in engaging their environments safely and comfortably. The elderly are encouraged to visit the facility at least once a year for a self-initiated check-up. There are two zones in the centre:

1) Healthy ageing zone

  • Use of interactive interface and computer games to test the elderly person’s cognitive and physical abilities.
  • Elderly would be equipped with a member’s card to record their results from each station (ranging from the basic BMI tests to stations that test the hand-eye coordination and memory capabilities of the elderly) on a tabulated sheet including the history of their previous attempts.
  • Data collected for national sampling, synced with Hong Kong’s centralised medical records.
  • Results would inform the elderly of their current physical and cognitive state, and provide advice on home and environment modifications that would address their personal needs.

2) Adaptive housing

  • A full studio and one-bedroom apartment were set up as a show unit.
  • Innovative products and design strategies from HKHS’s collaboration with the universities and design labs were showcased in this zone to educate the elderly and their families.
  • Products were made available for purchase at the front lobby.
  • Provides the elderly a range of options in customising and personalising their living environments, creating preferred living spaces.

SCHSA is an independent, non-profit social enterprise that bridges the service gaps in the provision of care by the Government for the ageing community. Its focus is on developing the use of technology and services to reduce the elderly community’s dependence for staff to provide on-site support. Some of the innovations started included the “Diamond Cab” initiative; the “Safety Phone” services; and the “Personal Emergency Link”. Together with HKHS, the two organisations are the hardware and software that create a holistic elder-friendly home that supports the aging-in-place.

From Hong Kong’s example, it was observed that the organisations providing senior care took on the role of a facilitator rather than a direct caregiver most of the time, bestowing the ownership of caring for elders to the community. Thus, ageing-in-place is not merely a mantra one subscribes to and expects it to magically happen. It is a mindset developed by both the community and the elderly that enables the society to be one that is all-encompassing and inclusive.


– CPG Healthcare

(* PHOTO CREDIT: CPG Healthcare)



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One Response to “A tale of two cities”

  1. Liing Her June 24, 2013 at 11:48 AM #

    It’s encouraging to see Michelle & Jint’s article posted on the web! :) Caregiving for the elderly, when done in isolation, can be psycologically traumatizing. But when done within the supportive bonds of community and good family relationships, it can be natural.

    Thanks for posting!

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