PETALING JAYA: What happens when Malaysia reaches a population with more retirees than active adults and children? The prospect seems to be a distant reality, but statistics show that Malaysia is fast approaching the status of an ageing nation.
Dr Wong Teck Wee, president of the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society, said Malaysia would suffer a heavy fiscal burden unless there were changes in the system for elderly care.
He said ageing populations would create a phenomenon, where middle-aged adults have to take care of their own children as well as their elderly parents. These middle-aged adults are usually termed as the “sandwich generation”.
An ageing nation is one where more than 7% of its population are above 65 years old.
Malaysia has 2 million people above the age of 65 and the number is expected to rise to 3.5 million next year (7.2% of the population) and 6.3 million in 2040, according to research by Universiti Malaya.
Wong said: “The problem is that older people are living longer, but living longer unhealthily. If you live longer unhealthily, then you need a lot of resources to take care of you. It will affect the country’s productivity.”
The elderly in Malaysia were not financially independent and often had to rely on their children and family members.
Wong said 80% of the population earned less than RM6,500 per household. Such an income level was insufficient to cover the family’s general care and that of a parent older than 65 who needed healthcare.
The middle-aged children would face a heavy burden, and conflict and stress within the family may arise. The burden would be felt more strongly among poorer families.
“Even in Japan, it becomes a problem. They live really long but the cost of living increases the longer they stay alive. So they become poor and some end up committing petty crime, so they can stay in prison where they are better taken care of.”
Dr Wong said Malaysia must develop its own system and not follow the Western system, which provides free at-home services, including fully catered meals, to their elderly.
“But they become dependent on the government. If the government fails, the whole thing collapses,” he added.
Instead, elderly people should be taught to take care of themselves. He suggested that healthy ageing – which promotes healthy living from young – be incorporated into the national curriculum so that the elderly would be less dependent on the government and the community.
He recommended that children be taught about healthy eating and mental health. Children should also learn financial literacy, about how to save and budget. They would grow up to become independent elders and the government will need to spend less money on older people.
Wong said the young grandchildren of elderly people, taught about healthy ageing in schools, could share what they had learned when they come back home.