Confronting the old age conundrum

PETALING JAYA: Policies and programmes are needed in Malaysia to protect and care for the elderly population, says Tan Sri Hasmy Agam, chairman of the Human Rights Commission of Malaysia (Suhakam).

“As an increasing number of Malaysians are living well into old age, they are in greater need of assistance in performing routine functions,” said Hasmy.

“Demand is also going up for medical care and nursing homes, while families are burdened with the high cost of care for elderly members,” he added.

Asians traditionally rely on family members to take care of them in old age. In the past, the elderly usually stayed at home with family members instead and it was  rare for them to be placed in nursing homes.

But now it’s not easy for the younger generation to take care of elderly family members as many of them have full-time careers.

“At the same time, it is discernible that our values are changing. So we have to find alternatives – we have to create legislations and set laws to protect our elders,” said Hasmy.

Malaysia has existing government support systems available for the elderly provided through national policies as well as social protection and retirement system, but more can be done for them.

“We should have a planned policy for them, such as providing facilities, mobile clinics or even doctors and nurses who would come and see them at home, at regular intervals,” he said.

“This would make it easier for family members to take care of their elderly relatives at home,” adds Hasmy.

Dr Andrew Mohanraj, a consultant psychiatrist and deputy president at the Malaysian Mental Health Association, agrees that Malaysia has insufficient laws and policies to safeguard the interests of our elderly population.

“For one thing we still do not have the Aged Care Act. This will become a very serious issue if we do not plan for not too far away in 2035 when, according to UN projections, Malaysia will be officially an aging nation,” he said.

This means that at least 15% of Malaysia’s population will be above the age of 60.

Issues such as accessibility, health care, wheelchair friendly public transport, appropriate subsidies accorded to senior citizens, old age assistance payments and rules governing residential care for the elderly should be addressed.

“Most Malaysian parents would be prepared to sacrifice everything including selling off their only house to finance the education of their children but in old age may not find this deed reciprocated,” said Dr Mohanraj.

“Families are also getting smaller, which leave few children to look after their elderly parents,” he added.

“There must be a mechanism to ensure old age assistance payments to at least instil some dignity and financial security in old age,” he said.

Another issue that has to be addressed is the state of affairs in many old folk’s homes and private nursing homes in Malaysia.

“Many of these are very poorly managed and often the clients are neglected or even abused,” said Dr Andrew.

“The care givers in such residential facilities must be given adequate training and certification and special focus must be given to the importance of psychosocial care for the aged,” he said.

Dr Mohanraj stresses the importance of giving the proper care to our elderly population.

“Any society will be judged by how it looks after its elderly and other vulnerable groups,” he said.

“When the elderly are neglected, that speaks badly of our values and priorities. It also means that we forget everyone will get old someday,” adds Dr Mohanraj.

He also expresses his worry for people with non-physical conditions like dementia or depression, as their suffering may be prolonged due to our increasing lifespan.

Dr Mohanraj believes that we should be “adding life into the days rather than adding days into their lives” and that reforms in care of the aged must be put in place now.

“A society must be for all ages. The elderly too have a right to live a life of dignity,” said Dr Mohanraj.