AS Malaysia prepares itself to be an ageing nation when seven per cent of its population will be 65 years and older by 2030, it is obvious that much thought has to be given to grapple with the problems and challenges that would arise.
According to Universiti Malaya’s Social Wellbeing Research Centre, the number of Malaysians aged 60 and above is projected to reach 3.5 million in 2020 and 6.3 million in 2040 — about 20 per cent of the population.
The most common problems that senior citizens all over the world are facing include deteriorating health, malnutrition, lack of proper shelter, fear, depression, senility, isolation, boredom, non-productivity and financial incapacity.
These problems can be grouped into two categories: physical and mental health, and financial capacity.
Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, on Saturday, urged the older generation to remain active and continue working, even after retirement.
Dr Mahathir, who is 93, said if they do not remain active, they will become weak.
He was speaking at the “Ageing, Learning and Technology: Enriching Lives, Connecting Communities Conference” in conjunction with the International Day of Older Persons.
It is timely for the government to review its policies and prepare for this transition, including providing a better social support system. The country must have a comprehensive social security programme since studies show that the retirement income for most older people is inadequate.
The average life expectancy of Malaysians is 75 years, therefore, a person needs savings to last between 15 and 20 years.
A study conducted by the Insured Retirement Institute early this year showed that less than 25 per cent of working people interviewed believe that they will have enough money to support them through their retirement years.
Since the cost of living is expected to increase in years to come, it is important to provide a social safety net, including allowing healthy and experienced senior citizens to work.
The government could emulate the approach taken by countries which had introduced financial incentives for employers to hire or retain older workers and subsidise job training for them.
Focus should be given to elderly women, as they are more likely to be widows who do not have adequate retirement incomes.
The government should develop an ageing-friendly healthcare system that focuses on prevention and less on costly hospital care. We must accept the fact that fast-growing elderly population will strain the healthcare system.
Apart from building and improving hospitals and clinics, more geriatricians should be trained as there is only one geriatrician for every 100,000 older persons.
We should learn from developed nations, especially Japan, on how to handle an ageing population.
Japan has reached a new world record with one in three people aged over 65. Although Japan has among the best healthcare and social safety net for its senior citizens, the ageing population has put a strain on its financial system and retail industry.
According to Bloomberg, complaints and arrests involving older citizens are outpacing those of any other demographic in Japan, and the elderly crime rate has quadrupled over the past couple of decades. This is one of the challenges that we must be prepared for.
We should 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.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE