Impact of ageing populations on society

POPULATIONS in Asia are ageing faster than in any other region. Between 2015 and 2034, the older population will grow by about 22 per cent every five years.

According to the ‘Live Long and Prosper: Ageing in East Asia and Pacific Report’, by 2060, one of five of the world’s oldest countries will be in East Asia compared to just one in 25 in 2010.

The rate of population ageing will undoubtedly have a tremendous impact on various aspects of society and living, including economy, healthcare, social development and welfare.

Against the backdrop of current modern society and lifestyle, ageing becomes much more challenging when it is not complemented by good health – and healthy lifestyle habits should begin from an early age.

Therefore, the issue of healthy ageing begs the need to enhance our knowledge about fostering good health among people of all ages, starting from as young as possible, to promote better quality of life in the later stages.

Professor Nathan Vytialingam

Healthy ageing

Professor Nathan Vytialingam, an advisor of the Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS), said healthy ageing is a combination of ageing gracefully and healthily and being independent in old age without any illness process.

It is from womb to tomb and this concept of living must be instilled from young.

“Managing the issues and challenges of ageing effectively will require a holistic approach,” he said.

The upcoming First Asean Conference on Healthy Ageing will, therefore, be an ideal platform for stakeholders in the region to gather and discuss these issues and challenges so that the right preparations, policies and frameworks can be put in place in advance to help prepare their nations for the impact of ageing populations.

“This conference will also be an opportune time for stakeholders, in particular healthcare and allied health professionals, to meet, network, share knowledge and update themselves on the latest developments in their fields of practice,” added Nathan, the organising chairman.

He also sits in the Advisory Council of the Global Coalition on Ageing.

The three-day conference on Oct 10-12 is organised by the MHAS in collaboration with the Sarawak Convention Bureau.

Kuching was selected as the venue as it has been participating in the Healthy Cities Programme since 1994.

The state capital also places emphasis on a clean environment, is a good tourism destination, and has potential to become one of the first age-friendly cities in this region, giving the city leverage for tourism.

What to expect

Themed ‘Ageing – Challenges, Successes and the Journey Ahead’ – the conference aims to address the issues and challenges of rapidly ageing populations in the region.

Clinicians from various disciplines, allied health professionals, the legal fraternity, financial institutions, insurers, pharmaceutical companies, policymakers, and housing developers are among stakeholders set to attend the conference, which will include plenaries, workshops, forums and symposia in its scientific programme.

The conference lines up an extensive scientific programme that will include age-related illnesses, stress management, addictions and substance abuse, sustainability of retirement and financial health, mental health, adolescent mental health, nutrition, the benefits of exercise and ethico-legal issues at the end of life.

There will also be sessions on complementary and alternative medicine.

On the last day, a consensus will be drawn up on the issues and challenges of ageing faced by the region and a report will be forwarded to the respective ministries.

 

Speakers

Datuk Mahadev Shanker (former Court of Appeal Judge, Malaysia), Professor Tri Budi W Rahardjo (professor in Gerontology, Universitas Indonesia), Emeritus Professor Takeo Ogawa (Asian Ageing Business Centre president, Japan), Marilyn Pattison (World Federation of Occupational Therapy president) Dr Vaikunthan Rajaratnam (senior consultant Hand and Reconstructive Microsurgery, Singapore) and Professor Phyo Myint (chair in Old Age Medicine, University of Aberdeen) are among the key speakers.

 

Education is key

Asked what are some of the issues and challenges of ageing in this region and in Malaysia, Nathan said because of diversity of cultures, the ageing process has to give due consideration to the cultural norms and take a different perspective. It is not just health issues but also covers social, environmental, community, housing and other areas.

“Many people have neither prepared themselves for ageing in a broader perspective nor planned for post-retirement. They find great difficulty managing the financial implications with regards to ageing.

“Financial and medical issues are one of the biggest challenges with regards to ageing as well as mental health and loneliness in old age,” he explained.

Nathan said in preparing for old age, financial health, physical and mental well-being are the areas that need to be looked into in countries with a rapidly ageing population, adding, “Educating the public is key.”

In Malaysia, he pointed out, there is a need for an inter-ministerial approach with the various ministries having part to play as “it is not just about health”.

“And to inculcate healthy habits among the younger generation, we need to educate them early. It is not just the responsibility of the school but parents also need to instil these healthy habits.

“A healthy mother can make a huge difference. Her role will be key in raising healthy children. These healthy practices can be continued among the generations that follow.”

He said care for the elderly in Malaysia is still at its infancy with an acute shortage of age-care specialists in terms of doctors, occupational therapists, nurses, and geriatricians.

“It will take structured programmes and training. The government can come up with these programmes,” he said.

For old people to stay  healthy, he said, it is important to keep physically and mentally active.

“Australia and some of the Scandinavian countries have policies and programmes for age care. Services provided for the elderly are well run and they make sure the elderly have a good quality of life. Their nursing homes are also well run,” he added.

Retirement

Retirement and financial sustainability will be among the topics covered at the conference. In this context of retirement, it should be retirement from work and not from life.

“In my opinion, it should not be made mandatory because people can still contribute. This will not be burdensome to the government. Studies have shown that continuing to work can be beneficial for healthy ageing – by keeping people physically and mentally healthy and active.

“As people will be living longer, they may need funds to sustain themselves. Whether or not elderly people should be encouraged to extend their working life, nonetheless, there are many ways they can still contribute such as providing training and contributing experience.

“An elderly person can be active but perhaps with a reduced workload. People can also contribute towards a cause or something that can be meaningful that gives a sense of purpose.

“In certain countries there is no such thing as mandatory retirement. Countries encourage you to carry on. The government can provide opportunities for people to contribute to society.

“By allowing people to work past the age of retirement, it will put a lesser burden on families. It will also promote independence,” he explained.

 

Formation of MHAS

Nathan said MHAS was formed to look at healthy ageing issues and educate the public and healthcare professionals on the importance of healthy ageing.

“Formed in 2001, MHAS aims to create public awareness for enhancement of the quality of life, and increase vigilance among the community about the impact of longevity and ageing population on individuals and society.”

He further said MHAS also provides information to empower consumers to make informed choices about health programmes based on data from scientific studies.

MHAS organises programmes to inform physicians, scientists and the public on advancement in medical sciences and biomedical technology to detect, prevent and treat age-related disease.

In 2012, MHAS took the lead role in organising the First World Congress on Healthy Ageing in Kuala Lumpur.

The success of the conference prompted South Africa to host the Second World Congress on Healthy Ageing in 2015. A third congress is being planned in Turkey in 2018.

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