Hong Kong must embrace longevity revolution, says Alexandre Kalache

PUBLISHED : Monday, 12 January, 2015, 2:43am
UPDATED : Monday, 12 January, 2015, 2:43am

Hong Kong needs to do away with compulsory retirement and allow people to decide when they want to stop work as life expectancy soars, says an ageing expert.

Alexandre Kalache, president of the International Longevity Centre in Brazil, says societies should embrace the "longevity revolution".

He says that instead of seeing the elderly as a burden, the should be empowered to make their own life choices and be looked upon as a boon rather than a bane to society.

In Hong Kong last week for an ethics of ageing policy conference to mark the launch of the Bioethics Centre at Chinese University, Kalache said that with modern medicine, people were healthier and living longer than ever before. Hence, the longevity revolution - or "more older people living longer but in better health with better education and more knowledge".

Kalache, a 69-year-old Brazilian, explained how he was part of the revolution. When he was born in 1945, the life expectancy in his country was 43. Now, it has exceeded 73 years.

"Hong Kong cannot continue to retire people at 60," he said. "It's not viable nor desirable."

He said people ought to have the right to choose when to retire.

In April, the government announced that the retirement age for newly hired civil servants would be extended to 65, with the private sector expected to follow.

Kalache did not have a specific retirement age in mind, but he said: "It has to reflect the life expectancy of a country. Look at life expectancy at 60 ... you have to calculate how much social security will cost, based on 30 years."

Paying attention to individual care would also help the elderly maintain their own independence and pose less of a burden on institutional care, Kalache said.

Four kinds of "capital" were essential for enhancing self-care, he said. First was to maintain one's own health, with attention to diet and exercise and mental well-being. Second, was to embrace lifelong learning and acquire new knowledge to keep mental faculties sharp. Third was the need to be in social networks such as family, friends and community and the fourth was to ensure adequate finances.

The conversation on ageing and the elderly should focus not just on how to help those with chronic illnesses but on prevention and well-being, such as them remaining a strong part of the community, he said.

Kalache himself is a "poster boy" of the longevity revolution. He is energetic and feisty, and throughout the interview he mentioned his family frequently and with affection.

His life, he said, was in stark contrast to that of his grandfather, who died at 65 half a century ago. "All the images I had of my grandfather was a very old man that was slowly walking to the grave. That has changed," he said.