BASED on the changes in the demographic age profile, our nation is extrapolated to become an ageing nation in 2030 with 15% of our population in the age category of 60 years old and above.
The scenario of an ageing society is associated with senior citizens most likely to suffer from many diseases such as dementia and stroke, and degenerative disorders with their attendant disabilities.
Consequently, an ageing society requires a specific health and social care system to meet the challenges of diseases associated with old age, dependency as well as rehabilitation and nursing care.
We have to plan now because an ageing society requires a holistic approach to develop and upgrade our expertise in geriatric medicine and healthcare, primary care to cater for rehabilitation needs and long-term management of old-age related diseases as well as infrastructure and facilities for home and institutional care.
The Government has undertaken proactive steps to prepare for the country’s imminent transition into an ageing society. And the latest initiatives, the proposed Physical Guidelines For The Elderly and the Aged Healthcare Act, are expected to enhance the quality of life for senior citizens, “Making life easier for seniors” (Sunday Star, July 9).
The guidelines would provide the framework for establishing the design of buildings and provision of living facilities for the specific needs of old-age living, while the new act would define the mandatory standard operating procedures (SOP) for health and nursing care services for senior citizens.
The report also highlighted that these two new initiatives would be the catalyst for growth of retirement villages for senior citizens. This is a normal reaction as the market responds to a business opportunity.
It is projected that the ageing society will spawn a cluster of products and services, including specialised nursing and geriatric care, to meet the needs of senior citizens.
Unfortunately, the retirement villages would only cater for those senior citizens who can afford to pay. According to Bank Negara’s projection, it is estimated that only 40% of our population are financially ready for retirement. However, the 60% who have no purchasing power should not be deprived of nursing homes, healthcare and caregiver services.
This group of senior citizens comprising the poor, disadvantaged and marginalised people will have to depend on government institutions and non-profit shelters or nursing homes managed by NGOs to meet their needs. Unfortunately, government institutions have limited capacity while the majority of the homes run by NGOs face financial constraints as they depend on donations and funding from charitable organisations.
The twilight years of these senior citizens are supposed to be their golden years but the outlook for this 60% looks very bleak. Those who are lucky can depend on family members and relatives to take care of them, but the majority may face a future of uncertainty and hopelessness.
It is imperative that the authorities who are responsible for the health and welfare of senior citizens undertake proactive action to plan for their future. There is a need to review and upgrade the current capacity in terms of trained manpower in geriatric medicine and primary healthcare, medical and rehabilitation facilities as well as an innovative approach in building infrastructure for home and institutional care. This is to ensure that needy senior citizens will have access to an old-age-friendly environment with trained manpower, facilities and long-term healthcare and nursing services as well as palliative care.
Abraham Lincoln once said: “In the end, it is not the years in your life that count. It is the life in your years.” So let us build a wonderful life for them by creating an environment that allows them to have a dignified and peaceful end-of-life experience with no worries and little pain at the end of their golden years.
DATUK WEE BENG EE
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