WITH the changing times some children face great challenges in fulfilling the needs of parents, particularly the emotional and psychological aspects.
It is undeniable that there are many elderly people living their old age in deteriorating health, depression and loneliness.
This is partly due to the change in the family structure i.e. from extended family to the nuclear family.
In this context, the extended family, which includes relatives such as uncles, aunts and cousins, would be able to assist and support elderly care when needed.
The migration of youths to the cities and involvement of women in the workforce due to economic and financial necessities have had effects on the life and personal care of elderly parents.
Some parents would prefer to stay in their own homes if they have their spouse still living with them.
For those who have lost their spouse, they may choose to stay with the children while in some situations they need to accept the fact that they have to spend their old age living alone.
As reported in “Kajian Penduduk dan Keluarga Malaysia Kelima”, this situation is known as empty nest syndrome.
The loneliness felt by these elderly parents would make them vulnerable to mental illnesses such as depression, social anxiety and paranoia.
It is observed that at the Psychiatric Ward of Penang Hospital, when this writer was there last June, most of the caregivers for elderly parents with mental illnesses were women, including two families met by this writer during the visit.
One of the caregivers had to resign from her job in order to take care of her mother who has been diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s disease.
Meanwhile, another caregiver is still working and made every effort to ensure that she could play the role as an employee and caregiver.
Her mother had been diagnosed as having psychosis and was previously struggling with chronic loneliness which led to anxiety and depression.
Both of them recognise the importance of a support system.
The support system may consist of family members, neighbours, co-workers, support groups and a healthcare team.
It would ensure that the caregivers receive appropriate advice, suggestions as well as information not only for the wellbeing of the parents under their care but also for themselves.
Instead of having informal caregivers among the family members, there are nursing homes run by various parties to provide care for the elderly which the public can turn to.
Pusat Jagaan dan Pendidikan Warga Emas Darul Insyirah, managed by Pusat Kecemerlangan Pendidikan Ummah or PACU, is one good example.
It is an elderly centre offering daily, weekly and monthly care, serving only as a transit for parents to spend their time in learning classes while their children are busy at work.
It is also equipped with comfortable facilities to ensure the elderly’s wellbeing.
The spiritual wellbeing is the main goal targeted by this elderly care centre; it provides opportunities for occupants to learn how to recite the Quran, gain knowledge from the Hadis, and even learn Arabic.
All these help to enhance the dignity and quality of life of senior citizens.
Interestingly, PACU aims to prepare youths to serve and entertain the elderly in the care centre.
The involvement of young adults is important as one of the measures of a nation’s greatness is the way senior citizens are treated.
In preparing for an ageing country when seven per cent of the population will be 65 years and older by 2030, Malaysia should set its own mould for implementation and to be used as a model by others.
The empowerment of its senior citizens should not only be done by focusing on the provision of physical infrastructure, but efforts must also be taken to empower them with education for spiritual strengthening in tandem with the National Policy for Older Persons.
In addition, policies regarding the welfare of formal and informal caregivers need to be re-examined.
The presence and participation of the elderly in the family and society is important to ensure their wellbeing.
In this context, the support system for the family and society needs to be enhanced.
Islam advocates that the young respect and honour their elders by doing good.
In several Quranic verses, for example, Allah commands human beings to respect, appreciate and honour our parents by doing good: “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to your parents, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them with respect and honour.
“Say, ‘My Lord! Have mercy upon them as they brought me up [when I was] small’.” (Surah Al-Isra’, chapter 17, verses 23-24)
As we celebrate the International Day for Older Persons today and welcome the new Hijrah year, let’s pray for the prosperity and happiness of all Malaysians.
The writer is a fellow at the centre for the study of syariah, law and politics, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia