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Old folk too easily forgotten

HELPLESSNESS strikes at some point in life when ageing gradually takes away one’s physical ability. This is felt not just by the seniors, but also their children who find themselves suddenly taking on the role of caretaker.

It is projected that by 2020, 10.6% of the country’s population will be 60 years old and above as compared to 8% in a 2010 census, and 16.3% by 2040.

Malaysia is expected to become an ageing nation (where 15% or more of the population are aged 60 and above) by 2035, according to the Fourth Malaysian Population and Family Survey conducted by the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN).

Our society is not prepared in almost all ways to meet the needs of the elderly. The high number of old folk abandonment may shed some light on this issue.

At wit’s ends

LPPKN’s survey also showed that nearly 30% of the seniors in the country were abandoned or received no financial support from their children.

Kim Loo Ting Old Folk’s Home’s caretaker Reverend Kai Guo said he had come across almost 100 such cases.

While not all children are heartless, it is no denying that taking care of aged parents is getting increasingly difficult especially for the middle-income group. This group is not rich enough to hire nurses or maids, nor are they poor enough to receive public aid.

Caring Old Folks’ Home founder Wendy Yap said many average-income earners had pleaded with her to take in their aged parents.

“Some actually cried when they send their parents to our home. I cannot call them unfilial, they really cannot afford providing for their parents with the city’s high cost of living.

“Many requests come from the middle-income group and we have to reject them as our home has to give priority to seniors without children,” she added.

As their parents age, it is highly risky to leave them alone at home but most wage earners are unable to quit their jobs to look after the elderly.

Nursing home becomes the more affordable choice, but the elderly will not be happy and worse still, many such establishments are unlicensed.

If the society is more equipped with elderly care services and facilities, chances are many seniors do not need to go there.

Communities can help

Retired teacher Lily Fu, a strong voice for seniors’ well-being through her blog seniorsaloud.com, feels that while the Government needs to steer its attention to such concern, the community can also build asimple support system with existing resources.

The residents’ associations, in her view, can do this perfectly.

Whenever members in the family cannot be around, the second line of support will be neighbours, who can look out for the elderly, and security guards in gated communities who can prevent them from wandering off too far.

The residents’ associations or management companies can keep a database of the doctors, nurses and caregivers in their neighbourhood to attend to their needs.

Fu said that in Ampang, where her mother lives, there is a pool of retired nurses who offer caregiving service.

“The residents’ group can also arrange for caregiving trainings, activities and health sessions that can benefit everyone in the community. All it takes is just a bit of dedication and the spirit of volunteerism,” she said.

“I call babies and seniors the bookend generations, so whatever you have for the former, you should have the same for the latter.

“For instance, why can’t you have as many daycare, recreational centres and catering services for the elderly in the neighbourhood, so that they can stay close to their children?” she said.

Furthermore, such services can be a source of income for housewives and young retirees, she added.

At the same time, society should be equipped with public facilities to help seniors stay independent.

They should build parks with amenities for the elderly to build their strength; ramps, railings, grab bars, benches, sit-down toilets and many more should be in place so that the seniors can travel around safely.

“Society needs to have the elderly at heart, just think of how we would like our parents to be cared for,” she said.

“These are simple requirements, yet our society lacks it. Malaysians seem to think it is not worth it to invest in old people. We fight for children, environment and animals which are very good causes, so why not add in the elderly?” said Fu.

She said the Government had not been proactive about elderly care.

“It is wrong to think that only the Welfare Ministry should attend to this. The health, transport and many other ministries have a role to play, too,” she said.

Asked about the option of retirement village, she said an area could easily be turned into that as long as it has a hospital, shuttle service, security, shopping, amenities, alert system and CCTV.

She is working hard to improve seniors’ quality of life but hopes more will join the crusade. Some of her “dreams” are to create a privilege card for seniors, a cafe operated by seniors and a portal for the elderly to addresses to all their needs.

Government’s slacking

Aged Care Group’s chief executive officer Carol Yip said there was a lack of awareness on elderly care and most would be at a loss when they were forced into the caretaker’s role because the relevant information were very scattered.

“The middle-class is affected most. There is no public platform they can turn to for help and information. Many nursing homes are not properly licensed, and most of them are short-handed with a lot more maids than nurses,” Yip said.

The main problem, she said, is that the Government has not shown the commitment even though the country is becoming an ageing nation.

There’s little funding from the Government for elderly care, and they are taking too long to prepare the Aged Healthcare Act.

She said the various ministries must work together to address the issue.

Yip said her company tries to mobilise the community to address the issue of elderly care. Among the measures taken are working with Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (UTAR) to provide TCM (traditional Chinese medicine) service, and with IMC Education on the training of caregivers.

“The caregivers’ service is RM250 one day, but if there is a higher supply of trained caregivers, the cost can be lowered,” she said.

Caregiving service, outreach programme, home rehabilitation, one-stop pharmacy, care centre and reemployment after retirement are some of the services provided by her company to elevate seniors’ wellbeing.

Yip is actually against the idea of retirement homes as they are expensive and beyond the reach of the middle-income group.

“It all boils down to the availability of quality, affordable nursing care in the area,” she said.

She said Malaysia must create its own model for elderly care because every country was unique. – By YIP YOKE TENG

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Source: The Star

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