KUALA LUMPUR: As Malaysia is expected to be an ageing nation by 2030, the country must prepare itself to assist the elderly, Alliance For a Safe Community chairman Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye said.
Lee said the rising ageing population would have implications in areas such as healthcare, financial services, city planning and social services.
“There are serious problems and challenges as Malaysia will reach the ageing nation status in 10 years, and 15 per cent of its population will be at least 60 years old,” said Lee.
“In Malaysia, senior citizens are defined as those aged 60 years and above based on the definition made at the World Assembly on Ageing 1982 in Vienna.
“Our main aim of caring for the elderly is to ensure that they can have a quality life in their twilight years.
“I believe that the most important thing for us to do now is to practise the noble values which include respecting and caring for the elderly who have sacrificed a lot to raise us.”
Lee said action must be taken to look into loneliness and other mental health issues among the elderly as there was a possibility of children abandoning their elderly parents. This, he said, could affect their parents’ emotional wellbeing, causing depression and, subsequently, trigger senility or dementia.
“We often hear stories of senior citizens being abandoned and forced to live in deplorable conditions on their own.
“It is very heartbreaking to read stories of the elderly who are neglected, especially those who have children or relatives.
“There are cases of parents being abandoned at a hospital, welfare home or even bus stop by their own children or relatives.
“It shows the lack of filial piety, which in the Chinese community refers to the important virtue and primary duty of respect, obedience, and care for one’s parents and elderly family members.
“Many senior citizens have also shared their sadness when their children or relatives do not visit or call them.
“Some of them have to live on their own after being neglected by their families.”
Lee said the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) had proposed that the government consider having a separate ministry or division to focus on the ageing population.
“The country lacks professionals to handle senior citizens... there are only 40 geriatricians and around 2,000 occupational therapists in Malaysia.”
He said another problem was the need for more hospice carers.
He said many families found it challenging to look after elderly people who were mentally-challenged.
To educate the public, Lee said, there should be more programmes for the prevention of mental health problems.
He said it was a serious issue among senior citizens and could lead to suicide.
“This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed not just by professionals such as psychiatrists, but also general health professionals.
“We must treat this issue as a public health problem rather than just a specialist matter.
“There is also an urgent need for the government to introduce a special Act to safeguard the wellbeing of parents being left alone at home or abandoned elsewhere,” he stressed.
Lee said there should be legal repercussions for those who failed to look after their parents.
“If parents can be charged for abandoning their children, the same action should be taken against children who neglect their parents,” he said.
“We always pride ourselves on our eastern culture that teaches young people to be courteous and respect the elderly people, but such noble values are diminishing due to various reasons, including the pressure from a higher cost of living,” he said.
Lee also added that it was important to provide a social safety net, such as allowing senior citizens to work as was the case in many Asian countries.
He pointed out that the government could emulate the approach taken by other countries which had introduced various financial incentives for employers to hire or retain older workers and subsidise job training for them.
“The country must also have a more comprehensive social security programme since studies show that the retirement income for most of the older people is inadequate.
“We must foster a more affordable independent care system, such as the one in Hong Kong, which has the highest life expectancy in the world.
“In Hong Kong, about 40 per cent of domestic workers are taking care of older adults, enabling them to stay in their homes.
“More non-governmental organisations should be set up to care for senior citizens who are neglected by their family members, especially those who suffer from illness.
“We need to help the elderly to remain in the community by providing daycare centres and day hospitals, social clubs, rehabilitation, counselling and advice centres, volunteer schemes and home nursing,” he said.
Lee said the Social Welfare Department had a programme where volunteers visited the elderly in their homes.
“Under the programme, volunteers will visit each senior citizen at least three times a month as well as monitor their health and social development.
“Such a support system which involves the local community will indirectly make neighbours more aware of the problems and needs of senior citizens living in the vicinity,” he said.
According to data from the United Nations (UN), Lee said, the average person can expect to live to the age 72.6.
He said the UN estimated that there would be 2.1 billion people aged 60 and above by 2050, out of a projected total population of 9.7 billion.