Many elderly people are neglected and do not have financial security after retirement.

senior citizens are increasingly getting marginalised

WITH the tradition of the extended family now mostly consigned to the rubbish heap of history, senior citizens are increasingly getting marginalised.

According to an interest group that focuses on seniors, aged parents are routinely abandoned at hospitals, nursing homes or in public places.

However, there are ways to help them live through their twilight years with dignity and even joy, an academic pointed out.

Founding president of Third Age Media Association Cheah Tuck Wing sees only gloom ahead for the elderly as Malaysia marks Grandparents Day on Sunday.

“Many elderly people are neglected, and a large number of them do not have financial security after retirement,” Cheah told theSun.

“Today, parents can no longer depend on their children to sustain them the way they looked after their own parents in the past,” he said. “The children themselves are struggling to stay ahead of the high cost of living.”

He said many seniors have very little savings. “At best, what they have will last them only a few years.”

The prospect, he said, can be “very frightening” if they fall ill and do not have medical insurance.

Citing a 2011 report, Cheah said one in three senior citizens in Malaysia do not receive financial support from their children or they have simply been abandoned.

Worse than that, he said, is the fact that many elderly people also suffer from various forms of abuse.

“It has been estimated that more than one in 10 Malaysians aged 60 and above have been subjected to physical, sexual or emotional abuse, financial exploitation, neglect or abandonment,” Cheah said.

However, there are ways to help the seniors. For a start, Cheah said, the government could consider gradually extending the retirement age to 70, not only to help seniors remain financially independent but to also encourage active living and healthy ageing.

He also proposed a new legislation be introduced to make it unlawful to abandon an elderly relative.

“Children should be made responsible for the care of their parents,” he said.

“The Domestic Violence Act is not sufficient to protect elderly people from abuse and neglect. A Maintenance and Welfare of Parents Act, similar to that in Singapore, China and India, is necessary to make it a legal obligation for children to provide for their elderly parents.”

Academic Dr Siti Anom Ahmad, who heads the Malaysian Institute of Ageing Research at Universiti Putra Malaysia, said inter-generational programmes will go a long way towards improving the lives of the elderly. “It is just a matter of spending more time with them and taking care of their needs,” she said.

Siti Anom pointed out that elderly people only start to feel lonely and depressed when attention from their children wanes.

“Programmes that involve collaboration, interaction or exchange between the two generations can improve relationships between the young and old. Both sides can share skills, knowledge and experience,” she told theSun.

She said both parties could engage and enjoy leisure and recreational activities such as gardening or cooking together.

Siti Anom said the tradition of elderly parents living with their children has given way to the new practice of children sending their parents to nursing homes. “However, this is not a ‘wrong’ or ‘bad’ thing to do,” she said.

“Many do this in the interest of their parents and if they visit them frequently, it is acceptable. Furthermore, nursing homes provide good service and efficient care,” she said.

Siti Anom, who holds a less gloomy view of the future for the elderly, said that while a lot has changed, traditional values such as respect for parents are still highly regarded in Asian society.