Prepare with foresight
In 2006, Vietnam was seeing a golden population, when 40% of all its people were between the ages of six to thirty. By 2032, thirty-two years later, at least 20% to 25% of the same golden era group will be in their 60s. This means that in every four persons there will be one older person or one person who is about to become old. In many countries, aging seems to occur slowly, whereas in Vietnam, aging comes within a very short time. Some two to three decades later there will be very few children on the streets and more elderly people everywhere.
Some people stall this thought of growing old and believe one should not worry about aging. However, the brutal truth is that if we do not prepare now then the malady of old age will suddenly hit every family in the country. Such is the case in Japan, where society is now almost totally full of old and aging people, and the state mainly caters to an aging population with all facilities from transport, housing, medical and healthcare services, social security, and everyday needs of food and essential goods reaching to their society of senior citizens. Japan can offer these services to its aging population because the country began preparing for this challenge about twenty years back.
Vietnamese people allow the grass to grow under their feet, in that they do not actively move to solve problems or respond to unexpected situations. An aging society is not a situation or a phenomenon, but an inevitable occurrence that will affect tens of millions of people very suddenly. Hence it requires a change in large parts of our infrastructure and in such essential systems such as social welfare. This will be extremely costly, so it is necessary to develop proactive strategies immediately to prepare for coming decades.
In our country, there are many fields that lack proper preparation, but are weighed down by confusion and passivity. For example, people with disabilities in Vietnam account for 7% of the population, but it was not until 2002 that we promulgated building construction codes to ensure that people with disabilities have access to services in buildings, such as ramps for wheelchair users, and restrooms for the disabled. It also was not until 2014 that technical standards for people with disabilities were added, such as floating numbers in elevator control panels, public bus lift platforms, and toilet seats specifically designed for people with disabilities in apartments.
Immediate action needed
In Vietnamese traditional culture, in young age a person relies on the parent and in old age relies on the children. This means that children must take responsibility and take care of their parents. A joint family structure of many generations living in the same house can support each other. As society ages, many elderly people will choose to go to nursing homes, and some of their children may also want to put them there, but it will be difficult without a social consensus. There will be need to make the elderly, children and neighbors see and understand that moving an elderly person from home to a nursing home facility is normal and not an abandonment of parent. This is very imperative. In a family where there is an elderly person who needs caring after 60 years of age, all members of the family have to face many difficulties.
In the future, Ho Chi Minh City will certainly need a lot of space to build more nursing homes. These must not be too far from the center of the City and must also have access to open space and green parks. If we do not act now to build such facilities, in a few decades there will no longer be such a space available in close proximity to the City and we will have to search for space too far from City facilities. The further the distance from the City the more inaccessible will it become for children to visit their parents. Every person must prepare for old age when 30 years old and buy insurance packages so as to purchase a one bed or two bed room facility during old age in a nursing home.
Governments and businesses must take into account diversified, multi-level infrastructure systems and services for the elderly. In a common building there must be a slow-speed elevator for the elderly, and the height of steps must only be about 10cm or 12cm. Along the way and on passages there should be many benches with back supports so that the elderly can rest and take short breaks. In supermarkets for the elderly, goods must be displayed at a low height and within hands reach, and the price of each item should be written in large and bold letters. In public places such as cafeterias, buses, train stations, airports, there must be seats and toilets designed especially for the elderly.
In Japan, many cities have separate lanes for yellow license plate cars or tortoise cars for the elderly. Inside a house, there is no furniture which has sharp edges or right angles but instead the corners are rounded and furniture pieces are light that will not cause injury when someone falls over them, besides being easy to move. Electrical and electronic items are made absolutely safe and easy to use as well.
In order to provide for such a society in the future, the Government, and branches of all ministries in provinces must take adequate steps now and without further delay. Currently, in the whole of Vietnam, there is only the Central Geriatric Hospital in Hanoi with 500 beds. It is time that other localities pay serious attention to this shortfall in essential services for the future older society and be prepared that the elderly do not become a burden but can live the rest of their lives comfortably. We must remember that youth are the future of the country, and old age is the future of every person.