By Mohani Niza
FOR an Asian society like ours, taking care of the elderly seems like the natural thing to do.
However, the rising cost of living and rapid modernisation have left younger Malaysians with no option but to leave their elderly parents in the care of residential homes.
A report in The Star in January 2014 quoted Welfare Department director-general Norani Hashim as saying that at least 10 elderly people enter old folks’ home every week.
The figures reveal that some 536 persons were registered in old folks’ homes in Malaysia between 2009 and 2012.
The World Health Organisation predicts that the number of elderly population will increase from 390 million now to 800 million in 2005. In Latin America and Asia alone, the figures will go up by 300%.
Some may chalk up this trend to irresponsible children and this could be partly true; The Star report states that children who abandon their parents often do not offer financial assistance to them, much less visit them.
Experts blame this on the rising cost of living.
“The real reason is the pressure of high cost of living and the change from the nuclear family structure to the extended family structure,” academic Siti Norfazlina Yusoff of Universiti Teknologi Mara, Kedah says.
Her paper titled “Aged society: the way forward”, which she co-authored with Geogiana Anak Buja and published last year, notes that the elderly population in Malaysia will number at 4.3 million by 2020 — an increase of roughly 6% in 2000.
Modernisation has forced children to live separately from their parents to earn a living.
Dr Ejaz Edward, chief executive of Noble Care Homes, agrees with Siti Norfazlina.
He says it is wrong to simply blame children for leaving their elderly parents at old folks’ home, citing single motherhood, the break-up of families as well as rising cost of living as the main reasons for this state of affairs.
He says elderly Chinese form the largest number of residents in his stable of residential homes followed by the Indians and Malays.
Dr Edward foresees greater demand for his homes and plans to open 100 new branches throughout Malaysia.
Siti Norfazlina criticises Malaysia’s National Policy for the Elderly because “it lacks a strong financial component to take care of the needs of the elderly”.
Many senior citizens are economically vulnerable, she adds, and suggests that the policy include this aspect in their action plan.
The policy strives “to establish a society of the elderly who are contented, dignified and possessing a high sense of self-worth”.