Wednesday, January 22

The golden age – are our seniors given their dues?

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I READ in this morning’s paper that the State Minister of Welfare, Community Well Being, Women, Family and Childhood Development (that in itself is quite a mouthful!) Dato Sri Fatimah Abdullah has said that by the year 2030 (just slightly over 10 years to go), our population of those over 65 years of age will hit 526,000 – which represents 16 per cent of our state’s projected total population by then!

Bearing this in mind, I would guesstimate that as of now, we would comfortably be looking at a 20 per cent population of those over 60 (Malaysia considers you as a senior citizen when you hit this age) as of now; which simply means that one in five is officially a senior citizen.

What have we done, or are doing, or are planning to do with this rapidly aging population?

Let me start by just following a senior going about his daily routine or just doing his chores or running his errands for the day; bearing in mind that he’s of reasonably good health, is mobile and can drive around by himself, maybe accompanied by spouse, child or a maid.

Say he needs to go to the nearest polyclinic where he is registered to take his half-yearly routine blood test for diabetes or other health issue. He promptly arrives there at 8am to find that the car park is not only full but there’s haphazard double and triple parking; so he goes to the nearest public parking lot where he has to make 3 rounds just to find a free parking spot. He would then need to walk 100 meters to 250 meters to get to his appointment.

The footpaths along the side of the major roads wherever he may walk along (be it at Jalan Masjid, MJC, Tanah Puteh or other) would almost always be unlevelled, badly paved or even spoilt by broken tiling and badly constructed. God help him if he had to push someone as well in a wheelchair.

Once inside the clinic, he as a senior citizen would be given priority (queue won’t be as long, but still a few minutes up to an hour or so, depending on the size of the crowd.) He doesn’t mind as the place is air-conditioned and the seats are usually quite comfortable. The staff, including the administrators and nurses are friendly as well. The attending physicians, specialists and doctors are all well trained, patient and understanding. We mustn’t forget that every single medical staff there has to attend to at least a hundred or more patients each and every work day!

Once finished, the much relieved and hungry senior goes looking for some food, a late breakfast or brunch somewhere. By this time it’d be between 10 and 11am and most of the popular hawker stalls would have either finished their laksa, kolo mee or what have yous.  Anyway he tries his usual hawker food stall.

Along the road while driving he would meet other drivers, and if traffic is really bad and he wants to get out of his side-road onto the main road, he won’t find any courteous drivers who would allow him right of way. After all, Kuching drivers are notorious for being among some of the worst drivers in the world. If he drives too slowly, he might even be honked at – if he tries to go into an outer lane, he might find that a slow tortoise of a driver has hogged the outer overtaking lane!

Arriving at his destination, once more he would have problems looking for parking; if he’s a handicapped person, he’ll find some non-handicapped person’s car parked in the spot reserved for them. The majority of the food stalls and coffee shops are located in buildings where the walkways (the five-foot way) and the entrance and exit thereof, are not conducive for seniors. Most do not have wheel-chair friendly ramps or even guardrails and hand railings to hold on to.

After having his meal, he goes shopping for groceries. If he decides on a place like the Everrise Supermarket at Padungan he’ll have to be extra careful to ensure that he won’t trip while braving the single (or is it one and a half) step going up to the entrance. I have myself seen my father had a bad fall there – gnashing his forehead needing a few stitches at nearby Dr Kang’s! I have complained but no one has done anything about it. Go take a look yourself the next time you go there!

It’s not much better if he decides on going to any Unaco at either 3rd mile,  Hui Sing or Nanas Road West! They don’t even have any proper ramps for the customer to push their heavily laden trolleys down to their car boots; what to say for wheelchairs! Their customers totally disregard the road directions signs in these outlets; as they come in and out from all directions making it extremely dangerous for seniors when they look for parking or when they are leaving. The motorcyclists are among the worst offenders!

After shopping he goes home and takes a nap and a rest.

For entertainment he might go visit a cinema-hall, luckily for him there are senior rates concessions; and certain upper end entertainment and food outlets might have special offers on food and drinks for seniors too.

The government it would seem to me is trying to do its best to cater for the needs of all seniors, as they are being given special rates when they renew their passports and driving licences. There are quite a number of other benefits and concession rates; however I tried looking for them on Google and they all appeared to be just available for West Malaysia! (I would love to be proved wrong.)

It is very disconcerting that right now with one in five of us belonging to this group, there are so few benefits and advantages being given to this segment of the population – these are the baby-boomers, the pre-war generation, as well as those who have seen and witnessed the birth of Malaysia!  I just took a look at our nearest neighbour Singapore, and I noticed that they have started to do something about what they have termed the ‘Merdeka Generation – only very recently. These are their citizens born between 1950 and 1959. It’s time that we have something similar here – to at least give our very own Merdeka Generation their dues – indeed, their overdues!