Health, financial issues plague senior citizens in their not so golden years

PETALING JAYA: In the streets of Kuala Lumpur, an 80-year-old woman works in a laundrette, earning a meagre income to support herself. The woman, whose family had abandoned her, relies on soup kitchens for food. When she has extras, she saves it for her next meal.

A man in his 70s, who nearly got kicked out of his rented room because he had seven months of overdue rent, has no one to rely on. He, too, was abandoned.

They are not alone. Many elderly people are living on the bare minimum in their less-golden days.

At least 50% of those receiving food aid from Kechara Soup Kitchen every Saturday in Kuala Lumpur are the elderly, according to operations director Justin Cheah.

Although some of them receive government aid, he said it was only enough to cover their rent and they were forced to rely on soup kitchens for daily meals.

“Many want to work to get extra income to pay for other expenses but are unlikely to be employed due to limited job openings and capability,” he said, adding that the elderly don’t have much choice and often work as low daily wage workers or helpers.

The abandoned elderlies often do not have a good relationship with their family members, Cheah said. He added that they either did something wrong in the past or do not want to disturb their siblings or other relatives because they do not want to lose face.

“They also feel useless and looked down upon as they don’t contribute to the family.

“There is the question of dignity, freedom and the feeling of wanting to be useful,” he said.

Cheah added that many of these elderly people living in the streets were suffering from old age diseases and other hygiene-related diseases, including rashes and wounds caused by bed bugs.

“They need medical attention but (some of them might not) understand what the doctor tells them due to language barriers, or (hospitals are) too far and the waiting line is too long.

“Some medicines are free, but not all. Some still have to get it themselves, but they can’t afford it,” he said.

Dr Madhusudhan Shanmugam, who runs the Teddy Mobile Clinic and treats the homeless in Kuala Lumpur, said families abandoned some of the elderly he treated due to medical problems.

Some of them suffer from chronic diseases such as diabetes which require continuous medications, urinary problems causing bedwetting, cancer and chronic non-healing wounds that need regular dressing.

There has also been an increased number of hypertension and diabetic patients among the elderly he treated.

He said the numbers could go up to the hundreds, as he was seeing new faces each week.

“They cannot control their diet because they can’t be choosy of the food provided to them by the public.

“They have financial concerns, and most of them do not like to be seen among the community as a homeless individual, hence they approach us for medical attention,” he said.

In July 2022, the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry said that 2,144 senior citizens had been abandoned at hospitals nationwide from 2018 till last June.

In August 2022, The Star reported that more retirees are looking to return to the workforce, a trend which recruiters say is good for companies seeking to tap their skills and experience.

However, some of them were forced to do so to help sustain themselves and their families due to the rising cost of living. This is especially prevalent among the B40 and M40 groups.

During pre-pandemic times, many elderly people opted to retire early.

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