Stories on elderly neglected by children, relatives heart-breaking: Lam Thye

KOTA KINABALU: Malaysia is expected to become an ageing nation by 2030 and it will definitely have major impacts on our nation and its economy.

In Malaysia, senior citizens are defined as those aged 60 years and above based on the definition made at the “World Assembly on Ageing 1982” in Vienna.

“There are serious problems and challenges ahead given the fact that Malaysia will reach the ageing nation status in 10 years when 15% of its population will be at least 60 years old. It was reported that there are currently two million people aged 60 or older, and this is set to increase to six million by 2040,” said chairman of Alliance for Safe Community, Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye.

The United Nations data show that the average person has gained an extra 30 years of life and can now expect to live to 72.6. It also estimates that there will be 2.1 billion people aged 60 and above by 2050, out of a projected total population of 9.7 billion.

Japan, the world’s third largest economy, is already experiencing the issue of population ageing. By 2030, one in every three people in the country will be 65 or older and one in five people will be 75-plus years old.

“Malaysia will eventually face the same fate due to rapid graying in the country. It will also have implications on other aspects of our society, from health care and financial services to city planning and social services,” he said.

According to the recent Work of the Future report from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, “Demographic shifts will impose steep burdens on national budgets as the ratio of retirees to workers rises and as the growth rate of working-age taxpayers slows.

“Apart from that, we have to look into loneliness and other mental health issues among the elderly when the country becomes an ageing nation.

“We often hear stories of senior citizens being abandoned and forced to live in a deplorable condition on their own.

“It’s very heart-breaking to read stories of the elderly people who were neglected, especially those who still have children or relatives,” he said in a statement.

There are cases of parents being abandoned at a hospital, welfare home or even bus stop by their own children or relatives.

It shows the lack of filial piety, which in the Chinese community refers to the important virtue and primary duty of respect, obedience, and care for one’s parents and elderly family members.

Many senior citizens have also shared their sadness when their children or relatives do not visit or call them. Some of them have to live on their own after being neglected by their families.

“Elder abandonment happens when children are busy working and such a situation could affect their parents’ emotional well-being, causing depression which will subsequently trigger senility or dementia,” he said.

The Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) has proposed that the government should consider having a separate ministry or division to focus on the ageing population.

The Society has highlighted the lack of professionals to handle senior citizens as there are only 40 geriatricians and around 2,000 occupational therapists in Malaysia.

International Medical University consultant psychiatrist Prof Dr Philip George said mental health also played a huge role in healthy ageing and we are doing too little to help prevent common mental health disorders, especially in the ageing population.

“We must remember that this problem will also become a huge burden on the carers too as many families find it a real challenge to look after elderly people who are mentally challenged.

“More awareness programmes must therefore be held to educate our society about the prevention of mental health problems at all levels.

“Mental health problems affecting the senior citizens are serious as they could also lead to suicide.”

There is no reliable data on suicide among the elderly but throughout the world, including Malaysia, suicide among the elderly is a huge and complex problem.

“This is a serious issue that needs to be addressed by not just professionals such as psychiatrists but also general health professionals. We must treat this issue as a public health problem rather than just a specialist matter.

“There is also an urgent need for the Government to introduce a special Act to safeguard the well-being of parents being left alone at home or abandoned elsewhere,” Lee said.

Failure to visit or give proper attention to parents could be considered as a form of neglect and should be subjected to legal action to prevent children from abandoning their responsibility to their parents.

Although some quarters may question the need to introduce such a law, the negative development in recent years should justify such a drastic action to stop the problem from worsening.

“We always pride ourselves on our eastern culture that teaches the young people to be courteous and respect the elderly people but such noble values are diminishing due to various reasons including the pressure from 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.

“As a child, we must remember that our parents who are living on are prone to accidents and could injure themselves or become a crime victim. They can also suffer from mental health problems such as depression and senility.

“Since the cost of living is expected to increase in years to come, it is important to provide a social safety net including allowing the senior citizens to work as is the case in many Asian countries,” he added.

The Government could emulate the approach taken by other countries which had introduced various financial incentives for employers to hire or retain older workers and subsidise job training for them.

The country must also have a more comprehensive social security programme since studies show that the retirement income for most of the older people is inadequate.

Among others, we must foster a more affordable independent care system, such as the one in Hong Kong, which has the highest life expectancy in the world. In Hong Kong, about 40% of domestic workers are taking care of older adults, enabling them to stay in their home.

More non-governmental organisations should be set up to care for senior citizens who are neglected by their family members, especially those who suffer from illness.

“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 existence of “Homehelp volunteers” under the Social Welfare Department for example, has helped solve the problems faced by the senior citizens in their neighbourhood,” he pointed.

According to Lee, under the programme, volunteers will visit each senior citizen at least three times a month as well as monitoring their health and social development.

Such a support system which involves the local community will 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 could have a quality 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 the elderly who have sacrificed a lot to raise us up,” Lee concluded.

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