Barisan Nasional Women chief Tan Sri Shahrizat Abdul Jalil voiced Malaysia needs more old folks, in line with the National Transformation 2050 (TN50), as envisioned by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
The Women, Family . and Community Development Ministry will be hard-pressed in ensuring adequate health care, financial resources, infrastructure and organised programmes are in place to cater to the growing elderly population.
The same apply for families, nursing homes, public and private sectors, as well as non-governmental organisations.
The two biggest concerns the ageing population more likely to face are poverty and diseases, especially non-communicable diseases.
The health care system must also integrate more geriatricians into primary care and has enough trained professionals such as counsellors and family care givers.
A successful ageing population requires a strong political commitment to make sure adequate policies and programmes are in place, but that commitment is lacking in Budget 2017.
The Budget shows the government is focused on addressing the higher cost of living, including housing, and stimulating private investment. For the most part, the older people do not directly benefit from the major initiatives put forward by the government.
Unfortunately, the reforms were not sufficient to equilibrate current pension finances, and new rounds of reform are now necessary.
Plans are underway to revise the retirement age from 60 to 66. According to Employment Provident Fund officials, the projected amount of at least RM200,000 in saving is required to live comfortably after the retirement age of 60. It has been reported eight new senior citizen activity centres will be built this year.
Currently, there are 11 Rumah Ehsan and Rumah Seri Kenangan around the country.
There are also 58 private nursing homes, where families are placing their aged members for a myriad of reasons.
Research has shown how social support and engagement in social activities affect cognition in ageing.
It has also been determined social involvement and productive activities lower mortality outcomes as much as physical exercise.
Policies in support of healthy ageing must also address the need for the continued social engagement of elderly people. There is evidence a lack of social interaction is a risk factor for depression.
Better integration into society can be achieved through participation in communal activities, such as involvement in charitable or community organisations.
We are at a crucial moment. If we work together and act now with the right programmes in re-skilling some of the senior citizens and show them respect, love and attention, we can get ahead with taking better care of our ageing society.
C. Sathasivam Sitheravellu