WORLD Senior Citizen’s Day fell on Aug 21. On this day, we celebrate and honour our senior citizens in recognition of their achievements and contributions. As former US president Ronald Reagan said in 1988, “For all they have achieved throughout life and for all they continue to accomplish, we owe older citizens our thanks and a heartfelt salute”.
The ageing population is a global phenomenon due to declining fertility rates and rising life expectancy. More people are living to a ripe old age. The UN Programme on Ageing estimates that by 2050, about one in every six persons, or around 16% of the world’s population, will be a senior citizen.
The world is moving towards an ageing society and Malaysia is no exception.
In Malaysia, individuals aged 60 and above are deemed senior citizens. Sixty is also our retirement age from the workforce. It is estimated that by 2030, more than 15% of our population will fall within the age group of 60 and above.
Having spent a lifetime raising families, and working and contributing to the nation’s success, senior citizens deserve to retire with dignity, happiness and good health.
There are two important factors that contribute to senior citizens’ quality of life. First, the absence of disease, and second, the maintenance of one’s professional and leisure activities after retirement. In other words, living to old age is a privilege as long as the ageing population remains healthy and active.
Thus, care of the elderly should be a priority for the nation’s policymakers, to ensure our senior citizens’ health and wellbeing, enabling them to remain in the mainstream of society.
Senior citizens are no doubt responsible for taking care of themselves and their own health but government authorities should facilitate and improve medical care. Hospitals should be equipped with senior-citizen-friendly facilities.
To help senior citizens remain active, the authorities must ensure that adequate senior-citizen-friendly transport services are provided. Facilities such as accessible walkways and railings, specially designed for easy access by people with limited mobility, wide and even pavements, and functioning pedestrian crossings are important for senior citizens. Our parks must be well maintained and equipped with clean, accessible public restrooms. If such amenities are not provided, many senior citizens may feel trapped in their homes and be forced to live in isolation.
Staying active professionally may sound like advice that one should keep working on tasks similar to one’s previous job. But we must realise that staying active does not mean that we do the same work as before. Instead, we can find substitute activities related to our previous employment or interests.
Nevertheless, those past retirement age who are fit and interested can accept part-time employment or do voluntary or charity work. Those not interested in working can opt for learning new things such as languages, arts and crafts, dancing, singing, or other forms of exercise. Regular participation in these activities can help lower the rate of deterioration of one’s mental and physical health. Healthier pensioners will cut down government spending on healthcare services.
Malaysia does have some systems in place to protect the rights of senior citizens.
The National Council of Senior Citizens Organisations Malaysia is a non-profit group that promotes the welfare and social wellbeing of senior citizens in Malaysia. It liaises with both the federal government and the private sector in matters concerning senior citizens.
In December last year, at the National Advisory and Consultative Council on Senior Citizens, Deputy Prime Minister Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail announced that a special act will be drafted to protect the basic rights of senior citizens. Experts from University Malaya were selected to conduct studies to draw up a bill for this new law, which is expected to be tabled.
Younger citizens can and should continue to celebrate and respect senior citizens. To celebrate World Senior Citizen’s Day, they may participate in various activities to show their respect for elderly people. For example, they should spend time with and bond with their aged parents. They may volunteer at old folks’ homes. Even simple things such as offering seats to the elderly or helping to carry their luggage are ways of showing respect.
In fact, the younger generation should shower kindness and respect to elders every day and not just on Senior Citizen’s Day. They would have instilled in themselves the typical Asian family values of filial piety, love and respect for elders. They should make the practice of these values a part of their day-to-day lives.
Datuk Dr Goh Ban Lee is interested in urban governance, housing and urban planning. Comments: firstname.lastname@example.org