By Maryam Husna Maznorzuhairi, Research Analyst, Institut Masa Depan Malaysia
In less than a decade, the number of people aged 60 and above will hit 15.3 per cent of the population.
Additionally, the Department of Statistics said Malaysians can expect to live an average of 75.6 years in 2021, up from 63.6 years in 2011, indicating a longer life-span.
The emphasis on senior citizens was reflected in Malaysia’s five-year plans, particularly the Fourth Malaysia Plan (4MP) 1981–1985, which first saw a significant shift in the demographic of the elderly population.
At that time, better healthcare had enhanced life expectancy from 68 to 70.
The 5MP (1986-1990) saw the formulation of the National Welfare Policy aimed at assisting minority groups, which included older people.
The 6MP (1991-1995) led to the introduction of the National Policy for Older Person in 1995 and Action Plan for Older Person in 1998.
Other plans followed the same patterns, such as the establishment of the National Health Policy for older persons in 1997 (7MP, 1996-2000) and institutionalised nursing homes through the Care Centre Act 1993 (8MP, 2001-2005).
These demonstrated Malaysia’s understanding and preparation for its expected status as an ageing nation by 2030.
Lack of sufficient social and economic protection for old people could likely be due to our long-held belief that children would take care of their ageing parents, while people who are childless, terminally ill or abandoned by their children may not find this to be the case.
In Malaysia, nursing and old people’s homes are two types of care available for the elderly.
The Private Aged Healthcare Facilities and Service Act 2018 (Act 802), which Parliament enacted in 2017, protects centres under the purview of the Health Ministry and the Social Welfare Department.
The act ensures the minimum standard of care is delivered to the elderly through strict licensing criterion, regulations and spot checks.
However, at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, 1,300 unlicensed nursing homes were found to have not registered their staff and dependents for vaccination for fear of being punished by the authorities.
With 2030 just eight years away, we need to address the ticking time bomb of ageing population urgently.
New policies and plans for the elderly must be developed more holistically and systematically by encouraging collaborations between the public and private sectors, including non-governmental organisations.
The implementation and coordination of said decision-making should ensure that the elderly’s needs are not only met, but that they also have a dignified retirement.
Enforcement should be done with the interest of the elderly at heart.
Part of the issues of many unregistered old-folk homes was due to the near tyrannical bureaucratic process in obtaining a licence to operate.
Operators often complained of the difficulties and costly process obtaining these licences, which could go up to RM20,000.
The goal must be to help these operators in managing nursing homes.
With Malaysia on track to becoming an ageing nation, there is a growing demand for old people’s homes.
To meet this demand, property developers are building retirement villages, elderly day care centres and nursing homes.
All these are top notch accommodations that allow for recreational activities and health services.
However, most of these facilities are expensive and geared towards the T20 (rich group) when the actual need and assistance are to cater to the underprivileged whom the majority are the M40 and B40 groups.
With the Shared Prosperity Vision 2030 goal enlisting that no one is to be left behind, the government should start building systems and infrastructure in preparation for the super ageing population.
Retirement communities that serve the M40 and B40 demographics should be made available, plus affordable housing schemes for the low-income group.
Their participation in the silver economy, as they often have significant spending power, must be encouraged.
Older people are contributors to the economy as they consume services like healthcare more than the younger population.
Maybe it’s time for the government to prepare the workforce for jobs in industries that the older population will use.
The strategies must be ones that can support a healthy ageing population, including expanding public transportation and facilitating continuing education for older adults.
Each of us must collaborate to future-proof our wellbeing if we are to meet our end with comfort and dignity.