Marginalised Malaysian elderly deserve better care

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Moving the elderly out of sight shows a lack of empathy and compassion in the society we live in, writes Cecilia Chan.

Malaysia, like many other nations, is experiencing an unprecedented population ageing phenomenon.

Data from Malaysia’s Department of Statistics show that 7% of the people were aged 60 years and over in 2005. This is expected to double to 14% by 2028. By 2030, we will have a new title – an ageing nation.

With the adoption of the National Policy for the Elderly in 1995, issues related to the ageing population have drawn more attention.

Malaysia has acknowledged the urgency of this challenge and is preparing to tackle this phenomenon. The country needs to raise public awareness and come up with policy and planning to develop the proper infrastructure. It needs to support action-oriented research to come up with comprehensive, cohesive social strategies, policies and legislation. This is not just to protect the present older Malaysians but also to safeguard the future of all Malaysians.

Recently, political leaders made various promises to better serve the needs of the elderly, who deserve the attention.

But not much has been realised. More disconcertingly, a recent report indicated that certain departments representing the government are quite openly suggesting the opposite of what the leaders had promised.

Aged care service providers are an important part of the provision of care to the Malaysian elderly. Although the Private Aged Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 2018 has been passed, the regulations have not yet been enforced.

Currently, the Care Centre Act 1993 regulates aged care centres in Malaysia. This act is linked to various departments, mainly the town councils and those relating to fire, health, licensing and welfare. It involves a complex web of bureaucracy and power relations between all these departments. This stifles the expeditious process of the act with differing interpretations and administration from each department.

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The outcome is frustration among service providers. This leads to a negative flow-on effect on the elderly who are consumers and recipients of the service.

Recently, a licensed aged care centre reportedly received a letter from a city council, revoking its licence. The letter cited neighbouring resident’s complaints about the presence of visitors’ cars and ambulances which they deemed a “nuisance”.

The application of such an administrative directive defies common sense. It was also detrimental to the facility. It appeared that the needs of the elderly who were already residents had not been considered. Such lack of consideration and consultation and the insensitivity to the aged by the council is unacceptable.

It is sad that society appears to discriminate against the aged. The house next to my mother’s has been converted into a children’s after-school centre. Many cars are parked daily in the vicinity. Then there are the children’s parties and noises. Yet, the community seems to tolerate this.

Ageism exists and is insidious at first. But gradually it becomes overtly prejudiced and then resonates profoundly in society.

Ageism is crystallised around how one’s experience interacts with developments in social policies and other less formal social discourses such as those associated with adult ageing.

The alienation of the elderly because of social stigma and prejudice seems to be our recourse in addressing the needs of the aged. It seems more convenient to move our elderly to a section of society where they are away from the mainstream.

This shows a lack of empathy and compassion in the society we live in. It is similar to moving those with mental health issues in our community to asylums. This reflects the backwardness of our society.

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As the ageing population grows into a global phenomenon, Malaysian society must reflect on our values towards the aged. To marginalise and devalue this vulnerable group who are in most need at this stage of their life, to make them feel abandoned is a scandal.

Our leaders have a moral and legal obligation to ensure that such a travesty towards the aged is not perpetuated by society’s lack of moral values.

Ageism through discriminatory practices such as housing and social policies has profound implications for the elderly and their quality of life.

Our strategic direction towards caring for the aged by our leaders and those involved with policy planning must embrace a culture of sensitivity. It must understand the needs of ageing and its physical and psychological dependencies.

Discriminatory practices should be denounced and frowned upon. An education process should be in place and play a major role in raising public awareness.

For us to become a progressive nation, we must first look after the elderly. Ingrained behaviour and stereotyping the aged have no place in a modern, progressive society.

As a nation, the public – health professionals, the government and policymakers – must work together to commit to the holistic care of the elderly. This should be done through sound, well-thought-through ideas and policies.

This, in turn, will lead to sustainable infrastructure that would enable the elderly to enjoy an improved quality of life – which they deserve – with respect and dignity.

Cecilia Chan is vice-president of the Association for Residential Aged Care Operators of Malaysia (Agecope).

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