Big challenges ahead as number of senior citizens grows

(The Star) – Finance, medical and long-term care, and providing the right facilities will be among the challenges ahead as Malaysia’s aged population continues to grow.

National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations deputy president Datuk Dr Soon Ting Kueh said while some would have pensions or EPF contributions to draw from, a segment of the aged society might face issues about sustaining their lives when they could no longer work.

“The government has an aid programme for senior citizens of RM500 monthly but this only covers 150,000 recipients. We believe many are still not covered,” he said.

He said by 2030, senior citizens would be making up 15% of Malaysia’s population or one in every seven people.

EPF withdrawals due to the pandemic, said Dr Soon, would also have implications on financial sustainability in post-retirement years, adding that according to some estimates, one would need at least RM200,000 to live for another 15 years after retirement.

The government, he added, should already have a plan at hand to address challenges brought about by the aged population, such as medical and care facilities.

“While some senior citizens are lucky to be cared for by their children, the observation is that some are beginning to let go of the responsibility to take care of their aged parents,” he said.

The government should consider raising the retirement age so that the aged could continue to be financially independent, he said.

“This will benefit the government because allowing them to work longer will lessen their dependency on the government to care for the aged as they are financially stable for at least a few more years,” he said.

Association for Residential Care Operators of Malaysia president Delren Terrence Douglas said more should be done to address the nation’s growing aged population.

“We will have an estimated 4.5 million Malaysians who will be above 60 by 2030, which is only eight years away. It took Japan 80 years to reach an aged population but we are accelerating towards this much faster,” he said.

He said there were currently only 11 government centres to care for the aged and about 1,700 privately-managed centres.

Only 382 of the private centres were registered.

Delren said laws to set up care centres differed from one local council to another, adding that these should be uniform.

“For example, an approval to set up such a centre in a residential area in Petaling Jaya will be rejected even if only one resident opposes it without justification.

“In contrast, Kuala Lumpur City Hall said any opposition by a resident to set up a centre in the neighborhood must be with justification,” he added.

Malaysian Coalition On Ageing president Cheah Tuck Wing said the nation was lagging behind in efforts to prepare for an aged population.

“At present, issues related to the elderly are dealt with by the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

“They should create a separate agency to address the needs of the elderly. If they can set up a ministry for the youths, why not then one specially for the aged?” he said.

He also lamented that only one meeting a year was held to discuss issues affecting the elderly, claiming that most proposals were “left unattended”.

“Issues surrounding the aged involve multiple public and private sectors, such as transport and housing, and not just about care for the elderly.”