Caring for an ageing nation

MALAYSIA is facing a severe shortage of occupational therapists as we become an ageing nation.

The rapid rise in the country’s older population (see infobox) has led to a severe shortage of occupational therapists, the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society noted.

There are only 1,892 registered occupational therapists in Malaysia as of 2020, according to data from the World Federation of Occupational Therapists, and there is only one occupational therapist per 10,000 head of population in the country.

While Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society president and Universiti Malaya Faculty of Medicine consultant geriatrician Prof Dr Shahrul Bahyah Kamaruzzaman cautioned that this lack of occupational therapists should not be taken lightly as it will have a significant long-term impact on the country’s economy, the society’s advisor Prof Nathan Vytialingam noted that the shortage is not a problem unique to us and is a cause for concern regionally.

More must be done to highlight the need for such professionals and the importance of occupational therapists in ensuring that our senior citizens remain healthy in their old age, Prof Nathan told StarEdu.

“Malaysia should have at least 6,000 occupational therapists.

“The nation is in critical need for occupational therapists, especially in the ageing population sector.

“There is a high demand for occupational therapists, particularly in caring for dementia and Alzheimer’s patients, providing cognitive and preventive care, and carrying out home assessments for the elderly,” said Prof Nathan, who is also Perdana University School of Occupational Therapy dean.

Mental health care providers for the silver haired generation, he added, are also in short supply.There are not many good mental health resources within our communities, Prof Nathan, who is also a World Federation of Occupational Therapists honorary fellow, said.

The elderly, he added, need good daycare centres where they can be evaluated, assessed and managed.

“Occupational therapy is a broad field.

“There are people with a diploma and work experience in early childhood education, for example, taking up a degree in the field because it will enhance their knowledge in early childhood education.

“There are also occupational therapists who branch into the legal field where they work with accident victims,” he said, adding that school-leavers must be made aware of the career prospects available for those who study occupational therapy.

The way forward, Prof Dr Shahrul Bahyah opined, is to have more medical schools and public universities that provide occupational therapy programmes at the degree and graduate levels.

While medicine continues to be a popular course for many, school-leavers who received their Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia (SPM) results recently may want to look into the vast opportunities available in the healthcare sector.

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