WE often hear stories about senior citizens being abandoned and forced to live in deplorable conditions on their own.
In Malaysia, senior citizens are defined as those aged 60 years and above in accordance with the conclusion of the World Assembly On Ageing 1982 in Vienna, Austria.
As a senior citizen myself, it pains me whenever I read about parents being abandoned at a hospital or welfare home by their own children or relatives. It shows lack of filial piety, which, to the Chinese, refers to the important virtues of respect, obedience and care for one’s parents and elderly family members.
At various programmes that I have attended all over the country, many of the senior citizens I talked to told me of their sadness when their children or relatives do not visit or call them.
I have also handled such cases when I was chairman of the Kuala Lumpur Hospital (HKL) Board of Visitors in the 1990s. At that time, I had to get funds from the private sector to help settle the medical, food and laundry bills for about 12 senior citizens who had been abandoned at HKL.
Elder abandonment happens when children are busy at work. The situation could affect their parents’ emotional wellbeing, causing depression which will subsequently trigger senility or dementia.
A geriatric specialist from Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia Medical Centre Dr Hazlina Mahadzir recently said that a special Act should be introduced to safeguard the wellbeing of home-alone and abandoned parents.
She said failure of children to visit or give proper attention to their parents should be considered a form of neglect and be subject to legal action.
I’ve never imagined that we would need to introduce such legislation but the negative development in recent years may justify such a drastic action.
We always pride ourselves on our Eastern culture which teaches young people to be polite and respect the elderly.
However, such noble values are diminishing due to various reasons, including pressure from the higher cost of living.
Many people think that if parents can be charged for abandoning their children, the same action should be taken against children who neglect their parents.
Children must remember that their elderly parents could suffer from mental health problems such as depression and senility, are prone to accidents and could injure themselves. The elderly could also be easy prey for criminals.
There are serious problems and challenges ahead given the fact that Malaysia would be an ageing nation by 2030 when 7% of its population would be 65 and older.
Since the cost of living is expected to increase in years to come, it is important to provide a social safety net for senior citizens, including allowing them to work.
The government could emulate the approach taken by advanced countries which have introduced various financial incentives for employers to hire or retain older workers and subsidise job training for them.
This country must also have a more comprehensive social security programme since studies show that the retirement income for most of our older people is inadequate.
More non-governmental organisations should be set up to care for senior citizens who are neglected by their family members, especially those who are sick. We need to help the elderly to remain in the community by providing day-care centres and day hospitals, social clubs, rehabilitation, counselling and advice centres, volunteer schemes and home nursing.
The “Homehelp volunteers” programme under the Social Welfare Department, for example, has helped to solve the problems faced by senior citizens in their neighbourhood. Under the programme, volunteers visit each senior citizen at least three times a month to monitor their health and social development.
Such a support system which involves the local community would indirectly make neighbours more aware of the problems and needs of senior citizens living in the vicinity.
Our main aim in caring for the elderly is to ensure that they have a good quality of life in their twilight years.
I believe that the most important thing for us to do now is to practise the noble values, which include respecting and caring for our elderly who have sacrificed a lot for us.
Filial piety must be instilled among the young generation and be embraced by them. A caring culture must begin from the home.
Trust me, if we take good care of our parents, our children will also reciprocate when we are old and weak.
TAN SRI LEE LAM THYE
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