MALAYSIA is fast becoming an aged nation, with over two-thirds of its population reaching the age of 60 by 2050. The latter will make up 23.5 per cent of the population, according to a United Nations 2016 assessment. This statistic includes this scribe. We all have to be prepared, like it or not!
It is commendable that the government is proposing a new bill, the Private Aged Healthcare Facilities and Services Bill 2017, to promote healthy living among the aged.
The good news is an editorial piece in a medical journal that stated that 72 per cent of aged Malaysians live with their families. But, is it? Sadly, this was way back in 1984.
Fast forward to today, is this going to be a reality? As it is, it is a problem.
The reasons are plentiful: from the rising cost of living to the current and future generations of youths (the Y and Z, born post-1980 and post-1995) who have a different mindset about the term “extended family”.
Gen Y and Z are characterised as individualists, creative, talented, but perhaps selfish, unfocused and loners. They tend to spend more time on social media and smartphones.
Are they then the ones to be counted upon when folks reach 65 years and above? This generation would have their own set of priorities and lifestyle.
Why 65? The common logic is upon retirement at the official age of 60, most people would still be productive, trying to fill in the shoes of post-retirement.
Most would find it difficult to accept this change, as they feel they had led rather active and constructive lifestyles until then.
From 65 onwards, they could then think of perhaps consolidating their finances and deciding to move to a more conducive living setting, instead of the empty nest they would be facing. In such places they could then live active and productive lifestyles which result in greater wellbeing, and not degenerate out of boredom living by oneself, as suggested by studies.
We have to be practical. What the new bill should incorporate is a section for professionally-managed retirement homes.
Aged care homes would be one good option. In Finland, about 11.4 per cent of people aged over 75 years are in long-term institutional care, or nursing homes.
State-level geriatric policy guidelines state that all elders in institutional care should be guaranteed a high quality of care.
Research also indicates that people who usually go to nursing homes have significant chronic impairments, and are likely to become more impaired over time for several reasons, including lack of opportunity to exercise and socially interact within the set environment.
Besides staffing, proper resources, and the philosophy of running a good nursing home, having the physical environment and infrastructure for residents (like parks, lakes) to live in is equally important.
What I am suggesting is a retirement village. Currently, there are some retirement homes in Malaysia, but it is a costly affair.
As the investments are high, most Malaysians would not be able to afford it.
For instance, it was reported recently, that a newly-launched retirement village in Ipoh required residents to pay an up-front deposit of RM300,000 upwards for a lifetime lease.
This amount excludes the additional monthly general service charges, which start at RM371 for a sinking fund which covers the operational cost of the village and access to the facilities and activities at the clubhouse. The lease deposit will be refunded when residents decide to leave.
There must be a regulatory body established under the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry’s Social Welfare Department to oversee the operations of these homes in an accountable manner.
The Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission (MACC) could also be roped in for good governance. This way, the government also has a commitment to the wellbeing of the residents and the industry.
The question is how to make this affordable, as most retirement villages are self-funded without major government support?
For instance, in England, to own a retirement home, the government provides up to 25 per cent funding. There is also a similar policy in Ontario, Canada. In Australia, retirement villages have shown to reduce the costs on publicly-funded health services.
Since we are not a high-income nation, one suggestion would be a system where one has to contribute a specific amount monthly via the Schedular Tax Deduction or PCB (potongon cukai bulanan).
Since this would essentially be a “by the people, for the people” initiative, all it takes is a RM1 deduction.
With about 17 per cent contribution from personal income taxes out of RM118.5 billion, this huge amount could be used to help spur this industry.
Apart from generating
savings, the retirement village sector contributes to national gross domestic product and taxation revenue, through investment and village operation.
DR THANASEELEN RAJASAKRAN
Faculty of Creative Industries, Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman, Kajang, Selangor