Malaysia needs to address challenges on ageing population

By LYDIA NATHAN / Pic By MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

Malaysia is inevitably moving towards ageing population as those aged 60 years and above have grown from 6.2% in 2000 and is expected to hit 13.6% by 2030, said the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS).

According to the United Nations (UN), in 2017, there are an estimated 962 million people aged 60 or over in the world, comprising 13% of the global population. The population aged 60 or above is growing at a rate of about 3% per year.

Last year, Malaysian senior citizens above the age of 65 made up 6.2% of the total population of 32.3 million people today.

“The statistics have doubled in proportion, but more than tripled in number. Rapid population ageing in Malaysia can be attributed to the dramatic decline in fertility and mortality rates associated with longer life expectancy,” MHAS president Professor Dr Philip George said at the Healthy Ageing Dialogue forum in Petaling Jaya yesterday.

However, he noted that Malaysia still lacks preparation on this ageing population development compared to other countries.

MHAS advisor Professor Nathan Vytialingam said there are many challenges that need to be addressed, including providing homes for the elderly, professional manpower and creating an elderly citizens-friendly community.

“There has been lots of talk about retirement homes in the last 10 to 15 years. Is that the answer? People look at countries like Australia, where the government devotes entire communities into elderly residences. But the most important thing is the long-term care,” he told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) on the sidelines of the event yesterday.

Nathan pointed out that the social welfare system in Australia funds these homes, unlike in Malaysia.

According to him, the cost is a major factor that has deterred these homes from being built.

“It isn’t enough for property developers to just build a big bungalow and then leave. The elderly need professionals working there, like an occupational therapist and such. The manpower is an issue.

“What developers need to do is go into dialogue with healthcare professionals and begin building homes for the future. Rather than wait till a person is immobile or in a wheelchair, if a person can buy a home now that is already equipped for the elderly, how much better would it be,” he said.

According to Nathan, the insurance industry should also be involved in this matter.

“Everyone sells hospitalisation or life policies, but no one gets into preventative policies. There is no policy that can provide long-term care for the elderly,” he added.

There is also a risk that retirees exhaust their savings quicker than expected.

George said with the current retirement age at 60, the elderly population is at an increased risk of financial dependency, despite the existence of a Public Pension Fund and the Employees Provident Fund (EPF).

“A greater part of retirees exhaust their EPF savings within three to five years. Thus, retirees are risking a lower standard of living which will impact their quality of life,” he said.

To combat the challenges faced today, George said more effort must be put into the area of geriatrics.

“Carers must be properly trained, along with their family. It’s not just the professionals that need it, otherwise I’ve seen so many families suffer from ‘caregiver stress’. Public forums like this must be held to educate people.

“The system of the country must also be looked at. Instead of the elderly making multiple appointments with many specialists, your general practitioner (GP) should be the primary caregiver. GPs can refer you or consult specialists on their expertise if needed,” he said.

The government has also been gearing up efforts into addressing the issue especially in areas of law.

Ministry of Health deputy DG Datuk Seri Dr Jeyaindran Sinnadurai said, so far Malaysia has no law to specifically address issues of the elderly.

“We are currently drafting the Aged Health Care Act for Parliament. This will address caregivers, hospitals and elderly residences. Right now the current laws are the Care Centres Act 1993 and the Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998, but nothing in regards to the elderly. We are working very hard on it,” he said.