Covert discrimination against elderly people

LIKE many countries in the world, Malaysia is also experiencing the ageing population phenomenon. Data from the Department of Statistics show that 7% of the older population were aged 60 years and above in 2005, and the figure is anticipated to double (14%) by 2028. By 2030, we will be donning the title of “ageing nation”.

Since the adoption of the National Policy For The Elderly in 1995, issues pertaining to our ageing population have been highlighted. These include increasing public awareness of the needs of the elderly, and planning and developing infrastructure as well as support for action-oriented research that would directly translate into comprehensive and cohesive social strategies, policies and legislation to protect not just the current generation of older Malaysians but the future of all Malaysians.

Various promises have been made by several of our political leaders on meeting the needs of our elderly. However, and sadly, the promises have not been delivered. More disconcertingly, a recent media report revealed that certain government departments are quite openly suggesting the opposite of what the leaders had promised.

Aged care service providers are an important part of the provision of care to the Malaysian elderly. Although the Private Aged Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 2018 has been passed, the regulations are yet to be enforced.

Currently, the Care Centre Act 1993 regulates the aged care centres in Malaysia.

This Act is linked to various entities including the local authorities and the fire, health and welfare departments. It involves an arduously complex web of bureaucracy and power relations among all these departments. The process of expeditiously enforcing the Act is compounded due to the different interpretations and administrations of each of these departments.

Naturally, this causes frustration among service providers and ultimately the elderly who are consumers and recipients of the service.

A report in the media recently highlighted a case where a centre for the elderly that had been operating with a licence from the local council was suddenly issued a letter saying that the licence had been revoked due to complaints from residents in the neighbourhood.

The application of this administrative directive defies logic and was done without considering the welfare of the centre’s elderly residents. The authority’s lack of consideration, consultation and insensitivity to the aged is contemptible.

The complaint from the residents was about visitors’ cars and ambulances at the centre, which they described as a “nuisance”.

It is sad that society appears to discriminate against the aged. The house next to my mother’s has been converted into a day care centre for children after school. Lots of cars are parked daily in the vicinity, and the centre is noisy when parties are held for the children there. But this seems to be tolerated by the community.

This shows lack of empathy and compassion in our society for the aged. It equates to moving those in our community with mental health problems to asylums. It also reflects the backwardness of our society.

As problems affecting the ageing population would only become more serious in the coming decades, we need to reflect on our attitude towards the aged now. Continuing to marginalise and devalue this vulnerable group of people is morally wrong.

Our leaders have a moral and legal obligation to ensure such travesty towards the aged is not perpetuated by society’s lack of moral values.

The negative impact of discriminatory practices such as housing and social policies are profound on the elderly and their quality of life. Our leaders and those involved in policy planning must embrace a culture of sensitivity and understand the problem of ageing and its physical and psychological dependencies.

For us to achieve progress, we must first look after our elderly folk. Ingrained behaviour and stereotyping the aged has no place in a progressive society.

As a nation, we must all work together to commit to a holistic care for the elderly that would enable them to enjoy life with respect and dignity.

CECILIA CHAN WOEN MIN , Vice-president Association for Residential Aged Care Operators of Malaysia

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