Sunday, June 26, 2011


Consider these statistics:

By 2050,
~ The number of persons in the world aged 60 years or older is expected to almost triple.
~ In developed countries, there will be two elderly persons for every child.
~ In developing countries, the proportion of the older population is expected to rise to about 20%.
~ The number of 'oldest-old' people, those who are 80 years old or over, will increase from 86 million in 2005 to 402million. Most of them will live in the developing world.
(Source: UN Population Division)

The UN categorizes any nation with 10% of its population aged 60 and above as an ageing nation. Going by this definition, Malaysia will reach ageing nation status by 2035 when a projected 15% of the population will be aged 60 and above. That's less than 25 years away. How is the country preparing to cope with the increase in this demographic group? Do we have the necessary systems and structures in place to meet the needs and demands of an ageing society?

Lifelong learning programme of activities for senior citizens.
A look at our neighbouring country Singapore tells us that we are, as usual, lagging far behind. The island nation has a Minister in charge of Ageing Issues in the Prime Minister's Department. There's the Council for Third Age that promotes healthy and active ageing. It organizes the annual 50plus Expo and Active Ageing Carnival. There are dedicated NGOs that are looking after the concerns of the elderly, like the Tsao Foundation and the Centre for Seniors.

Clementi Community Centre, Singapore

The Ministry of Health's website shows a comprehensive list of hospitals, as well as residential and community healthcare services available to the elderly.  The Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports offers financial assistance to those unable to support themselves, including the aged. The Ministry of Manpower has a special portal just to address the issue of re-employment of older employees.

There are policies in place to help the elderly like the Maintenance of Parents Act. The >60 Design Centre is Singapore's National Design Centre for Ageing. It was set up in 2008 to generate products and services to improve the lifestyle of older adults. The Housing and Development Board is committed to providing suitable and affordable housing for Singaporeans aged 55 and above. Every community centre in the republic has a programme of activities for senior citizens. The facilities at these centres are well maintained.
Former Singapore PMs Goh Chock Tong (left) and Lee Kuan Yew.
There is no lack of excellent role models of successful ageing in the country, and this includes former PMs Lee Kuan Yew, 87, and Goh Chock Tong, 69. LKY is well-known for his tips on how to live a long and healthy life.

The point of highlighting Singapore's initiatives in meeting the needs of the elderly is to provide a blueprint for our government to get started on preparing for Malaysia's ageing population. What has it done so far? Almost nothing that comes close to the Singapore government's all-out efforts.
Community Centre in Petaling Jaya in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur
From what I've seen, the majority of our community centres are run-down with barely any decent facilities to speak of. The senior citizens' associations offer little more than line dance, karaoke and taichi classes. The National Council of Senior Citizens' Association (NACSCOM) has a website that has not been updated since 2008 as far as membership is concerned. There's hardly any content worth reading on the site.
An old folks home in KL - counting the days.
The same applies to most of the government websites. The Ministry of Health's official website is an embarrassment, while that of the Ministry of Housing and Local Government is a joke. Why do government websites require visitors to sign in? Elderly concerns come under the Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. The page devoted to 'senior citizens' on their website can do with more informative content.

As for role models, I don't recall any of our former PMs taking the lead in implementing policies to raise the quality of life for senior citizens. During his 32-year tenure as PM, Dr Mahathir, 86, could have easily been the perfect inspiration of successful ageing, but he preferred to devote his energies to other areas of more importance than old people who are considered unproductive and contribute little to the economy.

There are people who will come to the defence of  Malaysia. They say it's not fair to compare Singapore, a tiny nation of 5 million people with Malaysia which has a population of 28 million. Ok then, let's compare Singapore and the Greater Klang Valley, or only the greying population of the two countries. Whichever yardstick we choose, Malaysia still comes up short.

Senior citizens queuing up to register for the special discount card for travel on RapidKL buses.
There's so much that needs to be done to prepare the country before it reaches ageing status. The clock is ticking away. In the meantime, the elderly continues to be neglected. There's no sustainable policy, plan or programme to cater to the physical, financial and emotional needs of the aged. Whenever the Budget is announced, there's is only token allocation for the elderly. We have token visits to old folks homes, token donations, token ceremonies and token assistance. Mostly for publicity purposes, to give a token impression of the work being done for the warga emas of this country.

What can we do to make the government take notice of us? Take to the streets in a peaceful demonstration?


Anonymous said...

Get your house in order. Do not make comparisons especially when you can't match the quality of superior policies and foresight.

Anonymous said...

in that case, leave Malaysia and stay in your beloved singapore,you sinocentric women!

seniorsaloud said...

Malaysia is my beloved country, not Singapore. But that doesn't mean that we should be blind to our areas of weaknesses. How else can we improve if we don't admit what we are lacking in, and learn from others who have done better than us? That's how we improve and move forward. Would you rather Malaysia remain lacking and lagging?

Citizens have a right to voice their frank opinion without being asked to leave the country! People who are overly sensitive and can't accept constructive criticism deserve to remain backward.

Anonymous said...

ah ! silly me ,a condescending response from a sinocentric women.the supremacy race spirit must be high in you.

Dr Wong said...

Sinocentric is a rude word, the Malaysians has lost its culture of compassion and muhibbah. Yes superior policies and foresight is the goal that we should aim for.

The gentlemanly or ladylike "anonymous" who has his or her house in order should stand out and take actions to create the superior policies for the rakyat regardless of any social classification

spendwisor said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

I am interested with the topic that you posted regarding the needs of the elderly in malaysia. I am also interested to do a research on the needs of the elderly in Malaysia. Kindly give me suggestions on the area that I can explore in order to improve the services provided for the elderly in Malaysia. Thank you.