More support needed for the elderly as population ages

This will ensure the group’s welfare and basic rights will be protected when the nation becomes an ageing nation 


BASED on the World Banks’ projection, Malaysia is expected to become an ageing nation in 2044 as 14% of its population comprises those aged 65 and above. 

While our society is taking time to acknowledge this fact, we must grapple with and adapt to this fast because, despite the projection, the aged population in Malaysia is expected to rise at the quickest rate in the next decades due to historyical and current trends in fertility and mortality. 

There are still various unaddressed challenges and issues associated with the ageing population which need concentration from the entire community as it poses a large societal and economic impact on Malaysia. 

Malaysia is expected to become a “super-aged society” by 2056, with over 20% of its population over the age of 65. As the population matures, fewer persons of working age will enter the workforce as well. 

Next year, a Senior Citizen Bill is expected to be tabled with the purpose of protecting their welfare and basic rights while creating a strong support system for them and caregivers in preparation for Malaysia to face a forthcoming ageing nation. 

On top of that, in the recently proposed Budget 2024, a total of RM1 billion is allocated to alleviate the well-being of senior citizens. Among others, an incentive payment of RM1,000 to be extended to all government pensioners including veterans, be it with or without pensions. 

The most well-known ones are the Employee Provident Fund (EPF) retirement savings and fund requirements, as well as the Pension Management Programme (KWAP) which offers a variety of schemes to guarantee that seniors are retiring with honour and possess sufficient savings to sustain them throughout their golden years. 

Support Needed for the Elderly

According to the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) president Professor Dr Shahrul Bahyah Kamaruzzaman, while there has been more of a spotlight on the ageing population with some initiatives being proposed, Malaysia needs to integrate some of the services to ensure a balanced health and social care to those in need. 

She added that among the challenges in the healthcare system for the group are the sustainabilitylity of care systems today which is challenged by the number and complexity of older persons. 

“Up till a decade ago, the response to the care of the ageing population has unfortunately been episodic, reactive, with hospital-centric care. This has resulted in an under-developed primary care with inadequate community-based services,” she told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR). 

Shahrul Bahyah said the government needs to reorient care services from disease- to capacity-or function-centred models. For example, the intrinsic capacity and functional ability from the hospital to the primary healthcare setting. 

“We have many services in place but we need to consolidate what we have, rationalise and integrate these age care services under a ring-fenced budget and ensure a balance of both health and social care are delivered to those in need,” she said, adding that emotional and psychological support is lacking compared to purely physical ones. 

“It is important for the elderly not to succumb to depression and cognitive impairments which may lead to dementia if they have underlying risk factors. 

“Although we have some support systems in place at our tertiary, secondary or primary healthcare centres, the social and psychological challenges are often superseded by physical ones. 

“Hence, there is a need to revive or create community support networks such as community hubs that are created for the people by the people and supported by relevant agencies,” she added. 

Meanwhile, iElder founder Dr Kong Why Hong said to tackle the isolation, there is a pressing need for subsidies on assistive technology to enhance the daily lives of seniors. 

“Currently, there is inadequate support from authorities. Implementing artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics can be beneficial. Initiatives like senior daycare, which involves activities in exchange with child care, can also be impactful,” he said. 

Dr Kong said providing platforms for talks, exercise and opportunities for lifelong learning for seniors is crucial in addressing their needs. 

Believing the government is making a significant effort toward the ageing nation’s direction, he said seniors still need support in terms of financial aid, healthcare services, caregiver support, as well as improved public infrastructure, facilities and accessible public transportation. 

To cater to this economic opportunity, the government can consider implementing more training programmes tailored for local seniors and creating opportunities for light-duty jobs that can increase their employment prospects. 

“For instance, seniors could take on simpler roles at places like airports and similar environments,” he added. 

Dr Koh also said the community should also play a role as the elderly group has a negative implication in the long run and continuous efforts such as utilising platforms like social media and television for these messages are needed to remind younger generations to care for their parents. 

“If we ignore them, there could be increased loneliness, cases of seniors passing away at home unnoticed, psychiatric issues, household conflicts and an additional burden on the government and healthcare system in the country,” he added. 

Theng says independent living or active retirement residences is an emerging concept in Malaysia (Pics courtesy of Sunway Sanctuary)

Rise Of Elderly Care and Support Centres

Malaysia has seen the rise of retirement home development and senior living communities. Some may choose to send their loved ones to a care centre due to factors like safety and health concerns, the need for better facilities, activities for the elderly, avoiding loneliness and isolation, as well as their own busy lifestyle. 

Sunway Sanctuary GM Leonard Theng said presently, there is a significant demand for nursing care and nursing homes, to serve seniors facing challenges like dementia, post-stroke conditions, wheelchair dependency, bedridden status and chronic illnesses. 

“However, independent living or active retirement residences is an emerging concept in Malaysia, with the majority of self-reliant seniors wishing to continue residing in their current homes, believing they are still capable and do not require any assistance at this stage,” he told TMR. 

Specifically built with different care models, Sunway Sanctuary, a luxury retirement living centre, is tailored to facilitate an enriching lifestyle, comfort and privacy, hotel-like services, a nurturing environment with a vibrant community holding abundant engagement and activities to enhance the elderly lives and foster a sense of belonging. 

The care centre also extends its services to post-discharge care, health assessment, providing step-down care for patients transitioning from Sunway Medical Centre with a team of dedicated caregivers who are trained to provide personalised care. 

Residents may explore two packages such as short-stay packages which provide a unique opportunity to experience the essence of active retirement living or long stay packages which are ideal for seniors considering a permanent move with independent and assisted living units. 

Theng said in Malaysia, some might view the service negatively and sending seniors to elderly care equates to neglecting them as it is still poorly communicated in society. 

“It is important to acknowledge that sending seniors to active retirement residences like Sunway Sanctuary does not equate to neglect, it’s crucial to emphasise the fundamental differences between these modern facilities and the traditional notion of ‘old folks homes’,” he said. 

What sets retirement villages apart from traditional old folks homes is the focus on independence, choice and a strong sense of belonging. Residents are encouraged to maintain their autonomy while being able to access assistance and care services when needed, Theng explained. 

Theng anticipates that the trends of assisted retirement living to grow in coming years due to the increasing demand for cost-effective housing solutions tailored to the specific requirements of elderly individuals. 

“Besides that, traditional family structures are evolving, with smaller families and increased geographic mobility. This has reduced the availability of family caregivers, making senior living residences a necessity for many older adults who may not have close family support,” he said. 

Theng said Malaysia is notably an appealing destination for both foreigners and residents as a retirement destination, particularly from nearby countries as the nation has a favourable climate, good healthcare system, language diversity and relatively lower cost of living. 

As such, he added that to support the elderly community, the government should consider offering incentives to developers in the senior living sector such as pioneer status and tax exemptions to promote growth and investment in the industry. 

Providing Quality Home Support and Care

Nonetheless, because not everyone is capable of sending their parents for supervision, home care is indeed still an alternative. In this regard, regardless of the situation, seniors themselves need to prepare for their retirement years and have specific goals in mind upon retiring. 

“Seniors who are in their retirement years should have the mindset that adopting a more active and health-conscious lifestyle leads to a better quality of life not only for themselves but also for those around them,” Theng added. 

While, as for those who have medical conditions, he advises them to consult with a healthcare professional on identifying any modifiable risk factors including those for falls, managing their medications and going for an annual check-up. 

Adding to it, My Aged Care GM Lisa Nadia Tan said having a certain set of quality and standards will make a difference for nursing homes. 

She said children also might need to consider investing in home modification since resident homes might not be as conducive to facilitating the elderly. 

“Stigma will always be there. After all, we are Asians. Children will need to communicate with parents, bring them to visit the nursing home, show them the facilities, activities, people behind the scenes and the quality care that they will be receiving at a nursing home,” Tan told TMR. 

Interestingly, for individuals who can’t afford to send their elderly to the centre, My Aged Care is also offering courses for caregivers for free. One can enrol and study the fundamentals, techniques and practical knowledge of caring for elders. 

“For individuals who do not wish to enrol or can’t afford to pay for the course but are in need of learning the practical techniques such as how to carry grandparents, bathing, feeding, they can make appointments with us. 

“We have a ready medical team to share the knowledge and guide them. No payment is required as knowledge is free,” Tan concluded. 

While we are gearing up toward an ageing nation, it is important to remember that ageing is a natural part of life, and preparing for it involves adapting to the ageing process, which encompasses physical, mental, emotional, and financial well-being. 

  • This article first appeared in The Malaysian Reserve weekly print edition