Aid­ing the aged

Do we have the nec­es­sary sys­tem and struc­ture in place to sup­port an age­ing so­ci­ety?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIFESTYLE - By SHARMILLA GANE­SAN

“A so­ci­ety for all ages en­com­passes the goal of pro­vid­ing older per­sons with the op­por­tu­nity to con­tinue con­tribut­ing to so­ci­ety. To work to­wards this goal, it is nec­es­sary to re­move what­ever ex­cludes or dis­crim­i­nates against them.” – The United Na­tions’ 2002 Madrid In­ter­na­tional Plan of Ac­tion on Age­ing

AS A de­vel­op­ing nation, Malaysia puts a lot of stock into our youth – they are, af­ter all, the fuel that will power the coun­try’s fu­ture. Poli­cies and ini­tia­tives in­volv­ing or aimed at the young play a ma­jor part in our nation-build­ing, and in­vest­ing in our youths is viewed as an in­vest­ment in our fu­ture.

The other side of the coin, how­ever, does not see nearly as much ex­po­sure. Malaysia

Res­i­dents at a home for the el­derly, re­lax­ing out­side their rooms. The fi­nan­cial and phys­i­cal bur­den of car­ing for el­derly par­ents could well be be­yond their chil­dren’s means. cur­rently has about 3 mil­lion se­nior cit­i­zens, and the num­ber is ris­ing. UN statis­tics show that Malaysia is likely to reach age­ing nation sta­tus (where the num­ber of peo­ple above 60 make up at least 15% of the pop­u­la­tion) by the year 2035.

In other words, we have only about 25 years to put into place the nec­es­sary sys­tems and struc­tures that are re­quired by a so­ci­ety that in­cludes a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of el­derly cit­i­zens.

A mat­ter of num­bers

Pop­u­la­tion age­ing is caused by two fac­tors: de­clin­ing fer­til­ity rates and in­creas­ing longevity. Peo­ple are liv­ing longer due to so­cio-eco­nomic de­vel­op­ments and im­prov­ing med­i­cal technology. At the same time, fam­i­lies are hav­ing fewer chil­dren due to rea­sons such as an in­crease in work­ing women who have fewer chil­dren, and lim­it­ing off­spring to pro­vide a bet­ter qual­ity of life for them.

As­soc Prof Dr Tengku Aizan Hamid, di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Geron­tol­ogy at Univer­siti Pu­tra Malaysia, points out that it is crit­i­cal to note that pop­u­la­tions are age­ing much faster in many Asian coun­tries.

“For ex­am­ple, France took 120 years to dou­ble its pop­u­la­tion of el­derly to 14%, while Singapore only took 18 years,” she says, adding that pop­u­la­tion trends show that Malaysia’s num­ber of el­derly will have in­creased by 277% be­tween the years 2000 and 2030.

“So­cial in­sti­tu­tions, how­ever, are slow to re­spond to changes in de­mog­ra­phy,” she says.

As our so­ci­ety grad­u­ally shifts into one with more mid­dle-and old-aged peo­ple, many widereach­ing changes need to be amended, in ar­eas as var­ied as health, fi­nance, em­ploy­ment, ed­u­ca­tion and so­cial re­la­tions. To spear­head these changes, gov­ern-

Work­ing on it

The shift­ing de­mo­graph­ics will cer­tainly make an im­pact on the nation’s work­force and econ­omy, as the num­ber of peo­ple re­tir­ing will not be suf­fi­ciently re­placed by new tal­ents.

The key, says em­ploy­ment ser­vices provider Man­power’s coun­try man­ager Sam Hag­gag, is util­is­ing the older pop­u­la­tion in a way that ben­e­fits both them as well as the coun­try’s econ­omy.

“We’re fac­ing a chronic short­age of skills, as well as an exit of skills through brain drain and re­tire­ment. There is in­her­ent value in what older work­ers can bring; for ex­am­ple, dur­ing the re­ces­sion in the United States and Europe, many older work­ers were pulled in to draw on their ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says.

While many em­ploy­ers may per­ceive older work­ers as be­ing slower or less pro­duc­tive, Hag­gag says a bal­ance in em­ployee de­mo­graph­ics is es­sen­tial.

“It’s about the roles peo­ple can play. In some coun­tries, bank­ing prod­ucts and in­surance com­pa­nies have found that older sales­peo­ple are seen as more cred­i­ble. And in some parts of Asia, work­ers in cer­tain fast food chains are pri­mar­ily from the older age group, and they found that cus­tomer ser­vice im­proved and the num­ber of days they didn’t show up for work re­duced!” he says.

Rais­ing the re­tire­ment age is one way of en­sur­ing pro­duc­tiv­ity, says Hag­gag, point­ing out that coun­tries like Tai­wan and France have peo­ple work­ing well into their 60s. Our Govern­ment does seem to look at this as a vi­able op­tion; it was re­ported in July that the re­tire­ment age for civil ser­vants may be in­creased to 60 as early as next year. Even the pri­vate sec­tor seems to be catch­ing on; in Au­gust, May­bank raised its re­tire­ment age from 55 to 57.

Ac­cord­ing to Hag­gag, an ef­fec­tive method to en­cour­age busi­nesses to re­tain older em­ploy­ees is to give them in­cen­tives to do so, adding that men­tor­ships and con­sult­ing are other ways in which older work­ers can still con­trib­ute to a com­pany.

Not-so-golden years:

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