Saturday, August 15

Overcoming the challenges of an ageing society

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KUALA LUMPUR: Ageing is an inevitable process. As a society ages and the number of its senior citizens increase, the nation has to be prepared for a new set of challenges that will affect its economic and social environment.

In the West, the greying populations has sparked concerns on increased public expenditure and rightly so because a rise in the number of unemployed senior citizens means allocating more for pension and health costs.

The National Senior Citizens Policy stipulates that a senior citizen is an individual aged 60 and above.

A country is considered an ageing nation when 15 per cent of its population is made up of senior citizens.

Universiti Malaya Faculty of Economics and Administration lecturer Professor Dr Noor Azina Ismail said socio-economic development had caused fertility to decline rapidly since the 1980s.

“The decline in fertility rates has caused population growth to drop each year, while the number of people aged 60 and above continue to rise. So as the younger population drops, the older population increases,” she explained.

In a speech at the IKIM Roundtable Conference titled “The Reality of the Aging Society: Causes and Challenges in Malaysia”, Institute of Islamic Understanding Malaysia’s (IKIM) Director-General Datuk Nik Mustapha Nik Hassan said ageing was not a concern to the government and policy makers only.

“This issue also matters to those who fall in that age group as they will face challenges as a senior citizen.”

These challenges will affect them in financial, social, physical and psychological aspects.

In Malaysia, insufficient retirement savings is a cause of concern.

Individuals with no savings or insufficient pension funds will find it financially challenging to get through their old age, especially with the burgeoning cost of accommodation, food, medical expenses and other basic items.

Having to deal with financial problems at an old age will increase stress among those in the age group and prevent them from enjoying their retirement.

Challenges that arise as a result of ageing is not limited to senior citizens, rather, it also has consequences to the people surrounding them.

A report published by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) stated that 90 per cent of retirement fund contributors did not have sufficient funds to sustain even a simple lifestyle for five years after retiring.

Nik Mustapha said the rest of the community would not be exempted from the effects of living in an ageing society.

“Those who live with senior citizens and have to care for senior citizens with dementia or other memory impairment will be affected too.”

Besides suffering from visual and auditory problems, some senior citizens also experience empty nest syndrome, a feeling of loss and sadness when their children leave home.

The National Population and Family Development Board’s (LPPKN) Fourth Population and Family Survey when compared with the 2010 population and housing census showed that about 23 per cent or 538,000 out of 2.4 million senior citizens in Malaysia faced empty nest syndrome. — Bernama