3.5 Million people above 60 in 2020
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s status as an ageing nation will soon become a reality when the number of people aged 60 and above is expected to reach 3.5 million next year.
The figure was expected to rise to 6.3 million in 2040, which covered about 20 per cent of the population, said Universiti Malaya’s Social Wellbeing Research Centre.
Federation of Reproductive Health Associations Malaysia president Datuk Dr Kamaruzzaman Ali said the country would face huge implications in human resources as well as services for the elderly.
He said one of the problems Malaysia faced in coping with the transition was the country’s timespan from now to an ageing nation was too short compared with other countries.
He cited European nations, where their democratic window to reach the status was longer.
Thus, he said, it is important for Malaysia and its citizens to prepare themselves quickly.
“Whatever mechanism available needs to be in place and ready for use once 2035 comes,” he told the New Straits Times.
Dr Kamaruzzaman said the government and citizens should ensure there were safety nets for the elderly.
“Our country has many pension schemes, be it those in the government or private sector.
“However, it is worrying to hear that the elderly are spending all their pension within the first few years of retirement.
“This is a major concern because as you grow older, health issues contribute most to your life. Thus you need to have safety nets to cover health issues.”
Noting that Malaysians were fortunate to have insurance schemes and universal health coverage at a nominal sum, he said Malaysians needed to be wary because the cost of medical coverage was increasing.
The government needed to look at a more sustainable mechanism, he said.
Dr Kamaruzzaman, however, said safety nets such as those mentioned were more focused on people in urban areas rather than those in rural areas who were farmers, rubber tappers and fishermen.
“How are they going to sustain themselves?”
Most people in rural areas, he said, relied on government healthcare assistance and support from family members.
“They are the most vulnerable in years to come.”
He said the government also needed to provide more elderly-friendly facilities at public transport hubs and improved walkways and parks.
He said the elderly should not be seen as a burden to society. Many, he said, could still work and should be given opportunities to do so.
Citing Singapore, he said the elderly were given jobs in the service sector, allowing them to be active and earn income.
Companies that employed the elderly received tax refunds and incentives, he added.
This, he said, was something Malaysia should emulate, which would create the concept of active ageing.
This would also contribute to the needs of human resources and lessen the country’s dependence on foreign workers.
Dr Kamaruzzaman highlighted the importance of protecting the elderly through legislation.
He spoke about better representation in discussions and public forums as people needed to hear their side of the story.
He said the younger generation needed to start preparing themselves for old age. Investing was the best tool to begin ensuring security for old age.
“It is not just about investing money, but also health. People need to maintain a healthy lifestyle to reduce the chances of getting diseases when they’re older.”
Perdana University School of Occupational Therapy dean Professor Nathan Vytialingam said the government needed to take an inter-ministerial approach.
When it comes to ageing, he said it was not only limited to health and welfare, but also include stakeholders from the housing, sports and environmental sectors.
He said it was timely for ministries to discuss what could be done for the elderly.
An occupational therapist by profession, Nathan said Malaysia needed to learn from Singapore, Australia and Japan, and emulate their policies and activities for senior citizens.
He proposed the idea of elderly community daycare, where children could send their parents in the morning and pick them up after work, similar to the concept of daycare for children.
These centres will allow the elderly to socialise with friends and, at the same, therapists could provide them with cognitive and perceptual activities, he added.
“Old folks’ homes are never the answer while Alzheimer’s and dementia patients do not belong in the hospital. Proper facilities should be provided to the elderly for the best care.”
He said these centres should provide lifelong educational courses and elderly sports.
He said it was important to instil knowledge and awareness in youth and the older generation to ensure that there were no gaps between the two groups.
He said it was vital for people of all ages to live in peace as some might look at the elderly negatively, while the elderly may consider youths as difficult.
“People are always looking at the negative side of ageing. If you age positively, you can age healthily and be independent. This will make things easier for all.”