There is a black hole with regard to social protection for the elderly in Malaysia. Post-retirement, there is no unified national strategy for social protection in the areas of healthcare and finances for seniors, said Associate Professor Dr Shahrul Bahyah Kamaruzzaman.
If an elderly person is not a pensioner, and they and their children are low-income earners, they are probably going to be dependent on the state for financial aid, said Dr Shahrul, a consultant geriatrician at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC). And if complications set in for a sick elderly person, there is added financial burden.
“Many do not buy health insurance and not everyone has a golden nest egg. There is no national strategy to initiate savings from young or plan for old age,” said Dr Shahrul.
Some elderly folks have poor vision, hearing problems, and diabetes but they do not seek medical help for their condition. “They dismiss it as health issues that come with old age,” disclosed Dr Shahrul, project leader of Universiti Malaya’s Malaysian Elders Longitudinal Research (MELoR).
These are some of the findings by MELoR. Now in its third year, the study has gathered vital information on issues, opinions and needs of the elderly to identify gaps in policies. Dr Shahrul said: “MELoR wants to empower the elderly to learn that they are in charge of their lives and have the ability to make informed decisions.”
On housing for older people, MELoR’s research looked into whether the houses are age-friendly, and whether retirement villages are available to all in the community and not just a niche market.
On healthcare, Dr Shahrul said: “We need to identify how we can protect the elderly from certain vulnerability such as dementia and falls.”
On economics and the retirement age, MELoR has found that many seniors can still contribute to the workforce. “There are many retired teachers and civil servants who want to contribute but there are no clear outlets,” said Dr Shahrul.
The study also found an inter-generational gap between the young and the old. There is a wealth of information on issues related to health and finances. These days, one can even pay bills on the Internet.
Dr Shahrul asked: “Do older people need to catch up? Or how much have they caught up with? Are we finding ways to bridge that gap to enable the elderly to be better informed?”
About 30% of the elderly use the Internet. She pointed out the need to tap into this segment and look into ways to channel important information to them.
“We’re trying to create more age-appropriate platforms in information technology. We’re looking into various forms of media that the elderly subscribe to and how they seek information on health, lifestyle, job opportunities and products,” Dr Shahrul said.
Next month, MELoR enters its second phase, and the 1,500 senior citizens who took part in the study will be invited to join in. Interviews will be conducted in the homes of participants and they will be invited for further clinical assessments at UMMC.
The second phase will be more strategic so that the relevant authorities can plan policies on various issues involving the elderly, said Dr Shahrul. “This is where the Law Faculty will come in to write out the policies, such as social protection for older people, and health policies and strategies that can fill in some gaps in current policies.”
MELoR is a research study by Universiti Malaya to gain insight into current issues involving the elderly so that the Government and relevant authorities can plan for a better future for the elderly community.
To date, 1,500 elderly participants aged 55 and above from three constituencies in Selangor (PJ Selatan, PJ Utara and Lembah Pantai) have been recruited for the study. The target is to involve 3,000 elderly people in the study. The oldest participant is in her 90s.
“MELoR is a holistic, multi-faculty collaboration involving nine faculties in Universiti Malaya to collect information on the elderly. Our team has 34 research assistants, many of whom are students doing their Masters and PhD in various aspects,” she said.
The research study came about following a rapid growth in the country’s ageing population.
She said: “We’re not meeting the demands of the elderly (in terms of infrastructure, health and economics) and need to act now with the ageing boom. With increasing longevity, we need to address the quality of life of the elderly.”
Dr Shahrul added that MELoR is currently analysing the data and the findings will be published in various publications. “There are a lot of ageing studies all over the world and this is the first comprehensive population study on ageing in Malaysia. We want to keep this research going and recruit more participants when funding is assured.”
Read more about how MELoR has helped seniors stay informed about their health status here.