Malaysia, one of the developing Southeast Asian countries, is moving towards becoming an aged nation at a progressively rapid rate.
As of 2020, more than 7 per cent of the Malaysian population are aged more than 65 years old, making the nation an ‘ageing population’. By 2030, 15 per cent of the population will be age 60 years old and above, a nation considered as an ‘aged population’. This is considered an ageing development quicker than many developed nations.
The rapid ageing rate in this country is due to the improvement of life expectancy precipitated by advancements in medical facilities and a low fertility rate. According to Vital Statistics, the Total Fertility Rate (TFR) of women of reproductive age in Malaysia has reported a decline from 1.8 babies in 2019 to 1.7 babies in 2020. Chief Statistician Datuk Seri Dr Mohd Uzir said in a statement that the 2020 fertility rate was the lowest in over 4 decades.
The declining trend in birth rates was attributed to increasing female workforce participation, rising education levels, lifestyle changes and increased use of family planning methods. As a result, Malaysia may reach the aged population status earlier than expected.
Consequently, the demand for elderly care centres and the need for professionally trained caregivers catered to the elderly have seen an increment over the years.
In Malaysia, elderly care centres are either categorised under public, private, and non-governmental organisations including centres managed by religious organisations. As of 2020, there are over 365 elderly care centres actively running around the whole nation, not including various unregistered centres across the country.
According to a 2020 Malaysian study, despite the utmost effort endeavoured by the management of the elderly care centres to sustain their operations in the long run, many elderly care centres face issues and challenges regarding finances, technology, staffing among many more. The most common challenges faced by operators in the centres include financial issues, lack of government support, staff training, licensing and issuance renewal, initial funding and technology insufficiency.
What is shocking is that a few of those centres are working on a sustainability basis without any profit gained.
In Malaysia, the privately-owned elderly care centres do not obtain any funding from the government, therefore, their means of surviving include donation drives and the creation of small businesses for side income such as selling consumable medical items and nonmedical services. This has caused stress among the centre operators affected.
The same study revealed that registered elderly care centres in Malaysia are still lacking in modern setup and technology usage. According to an elderly care centre’s operator from the same study, it is difficult to retain nurses working at the centres as the nurses are inclined to grab appealing opportunities working at hospitals as there seems to be a lack of career advancement when they work at the elderly care centres.
In this regard, the Malaysian government shall address the challenges faced by the front line custodians of the ageing industry such as caregivers and operators in handling the rapidly ageing population in this nation.
Support by the government in funding should be mandatory irrespective of the status of the centres, whether public or private. There is a dire need for the formation of a geriatric training centre under the Ministry of Health, to minimise the issue of staff training for both operators and caregivers.
Moreover, it is important for the elderly to receive cooperation from their respected families. This includes the provision of emotional support and promptness of fee submission for the centres to run without difficulties. The issue of nursing shortage in these care centres should also be addressed.
Recently, the Prime Minister of Malaysia has announced that the support system for senior citizens in the country will be strengthened to ensure that the welfare of this community is better-taken care of. The announcement was made on October 1st of 2021 in conjunction with International Older Persons Day. The PM also mentioned that the government will work towards building more senior citizen-friendly towns in the future.
On the other hand, Datuk Seri Rina Harun stated that her ministry, The Women, Family and Community Development Ministry will strive to enhance the quality of care, protection and support for the senior citizen community to ensure healthy ageing.
On that account, there should be a great amount of continual effort both by the government and private sectors for well-developed strategies to be implemented to cater to the needs of senior citizens and facilities in elderly care centres in Malaysia to ensure healthy and graceful ageing.