PETALING JAYA: By 2050, it is expected that Malaysia will have 9.6 million senior citizens, thus creating a new set of medical challenges and also opportunities which need to be planned for, says a former health ministry official.
Speaking to FMT, former health ministry deputy director-general Dr Abdul Gani Mohammed Din, said that an elderly population would see the need for the country to have more facilities and talent to handle geriatric care, as geriatrics are more vulnerable to health issues.
Government statistics indicate that the proportion of the elderly, or senior citizens, has been steadily increasing, from 5.4% of the population in 1970 to 8% in 2010. By 2050, it is projected that the elderly will number 9.6 million, or 23.6% of the population.
Gani is currently deputy vice-chancellor for academic at Lincoln University College, where he was also the former dean of the faculty for medicine.
Naturally, he said geriatrics – the classification for people above the age of 65 – are more prone to a number of non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension and diabetes, which in Malaysia, is especially bad news considering this country has the fourth highest number of diabetics in Asia.
According to the health ministry, some 3.5 million Malaysians above the age of 18 are diabetic, while 6.1 million suffer from hypertension.
“It’s not easy to take care of geriatrics. For one, they are more prone to diseases, especially lifestyle diseases and they also have different needs and challenges,” Gani said.
Such challenges meant specific facilities and medical expertise would be needed, including a greater number of geriatricians and even specialist geriatric hospitals.
Presently, Gani said there was no public geriatric hospital, like the ones they have in the United Kingdom, Australia and Japan, but several big public hospitals have geriatric wards.
“When we talk about geriatric hospitals, even the design has to be different and suited to the needs of the patients and must include special beds which make it easier for doctors and nurses to do their work as geriatrics are less mobile.
“They will also need special toilets which have raised bowls and handle bars at the side for easier accessibility.”
Gani said in the future, the country would definitely need a geriatric hospital, but for a start it would be best to start off by having geriatric wards in all main hospitals in major towns in every state.
But Gani said it wasn’t all about the “hardware” and that geriatric hospitals and wards would need the “software” too, in the form of geriatricians and nurses that specialised in geriatric care.
“We don’t have many geriatricians, because few want to specialise in the field but clearly geriatricians will be in great demand, so perhaps this is an area of speciality aspiring doctors and nurses may want to look into.”
Prevention better than cure
Gani said more needs to be done to get Malaysians to lead a healthier lifestyle – given the worsening health of many Malaysians and greater awareness on health issues than ever before.
He said some private schools made it a point to teach children how to read labels of products and take note of the ingredients, and perhaps, this was something which could be implemented in public schools.
“Our education system does teach children about healthy living, but somehow, they don’t practice what they learn and this is also evident in Malaysian adults.
Many adults he said, were aware on the need to exercise regularly and eat a healthy diet, but somehow, couldn’t be bothered to do so.
“It’s like when you go to a hospital, around the ward you’ll see hand sanitisers but many people still don’t use them.
Similarly, Gani said cleanliness ratings were developed for eateries to encourage people to patronise clean restaurants but still, many frequent dirty restaurants.
He said Malaysians, especially those who are now in their 30s, should be proactive and make healthier lifestyle choices now, instead of suffering in their later years.
Recently, Women, Family and Community Development Deputy Minister Chew Mei Fun said by 2045, those aged 60 and above will equal the number of the young, with each group making up 20% of the country’s total population.
She had said an ageing population was not necessarily a bad thing as it was merely a by-product of development, and improved health structures and systems that brought about reduced mortality and increased longevity.
Chew said while the government supported and prepared for an aged population, everyone had to do their share and prepare for old age as well.