KUALA LUMPUR: Loneliness and other mental health issues among the elderly need to be looked into as the country becomes an ageing nation by 2030.
The Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) advisor Prof Nathan Vytialingam said the government should consider having a separate ministry or division to focus on the ageing population.
He said that although the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry has come up with a number of policies and strategies to tackle the matter, the ministry has many other target groups that it needs to focus on as well.
“Some countries have done that, like the United Kingdom (where) there is a Minister of Loneliness because the biggest issue on ageing is loneliness, and it’s picking up here.
“I know the government is looking at setting up day care centres for the elderly, but we need healthcare professionals to run it as well,” he said at a press conference after the 9th Malaysian Conference on Healthy Ageing.
He said that there are only 40 geriatricians and around 2,000 occupational therapists in Malaysia. as such, there is a need to have more professionals such as specialist nurses in these areas, he added
International Medical University consultant psychiatrist Prof Dr Philip George said mental health also played a huge role in healthy ageing.
“I think we are doing too little to help prevent common mental health disorders, especially in the ageing population, because this becomes a huge burden on the carers too.
“A lot of families find it a real challenge to look after elderly people who are mentally challenged.
“So it is really about educating ourselves about the prevention of mental health problems, and that starts from childhood,” he added.
George said suicide rates among the elderly is high, though actual data of suicide among the elderly is “not reliable”.
“Our death certificates don’t really show suicide as a cause because it is still a taboo, so other causes are shown rather than suicide.
“But we know that throughout the world, including Malaysia, suicide among the elderly is a huge, complex problem.
“I think we should have this addressed by not just professionals such as psychiatrists but also general health professionals.
“They all need to know that it is a public health problem rather than just a specialist issue,” he added.
University Malaya consultant geriatrician Dr Tan Maw Pin said that generally, the older generation in Malaysia have a good quality of life compared to developed or developing nations.
“We see in the (media) reports on Malaysia being a favourite destination for retirement, and we also have one of the best healthcare in the world, so we have a very good formula.
“And we have the environment that is conducive for happy ageing, so what we can do is to build on these building blocks,” she added.
Dr Tan said there are currently two million people aged 60 or older, and this is set to increase to six million by 2040.
Malaysia is expected to reach the ageing nation status in 2030 when 15% of its population will be at least 60 years old.