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Risks of elderly living alone


26 Jul 2023

Prompted by choice to be independent, such lifestyle isolates individuals from access to help in emergencies

PETALING JAYA: The public has been urged to keep an eye on senior citizens who live alone, after several cases of them being found dead in their houses were reported this year.

In two of the latest cases, a senior citizen was found dead in his house in Taman Suria, Johor Baru on May 10 while on June 27, an elderly woman was found dead in a house in Taman Sri Gombak, Selangor.

Third Age Media Association founding president Cheah Tuck Wing said senior citizens choose to live alone mainly because they value their independence and do not wish to burden their children, while some were forced to do so as their children had moved abroad.

Third Age Media is a non-profit organisation that engages a variety of media channels to make information available for the elderly in Malaysia.

The Statistics Department said senior citizens are expected to account for 15.3% of the population by 2030.

“But this might not be correct and the figure is most likely to be about 16% or slightly higher,” Cheah said, adding that living alone and not socialising is why deaths involving such individuals are usually not discovered for several days.

A survey in 2018 estimated that 7.4% of the elderly live alone.

“Local community centres play an important role in helping the elderly to make friends and keep themselves busy. They exercise, have coffee and go shopping together. This can be described as ‘seniors looking after seniors’.

“When a person fails to turn for an activity, his friends would be the first to know. They can contact him to ascertain if all is well, or alert the authorities if they suspect something amiss.”

Cheah said a friend of his who lived alone died recently. However, since he hardly socialised, no one knew about his death for some time.

He suggested the government step in and help fund and maintain community centres where people could socialise, adding that such a move would be a good initiative as the government would not be able to take on the full responsibility of looking after senior citizens.

“With the existence of community centres, senior citizens can help each other. Exercise also plays an important part in keeping senior citizens healthier.”

He said installing anti-slip floor tiles and handrails in bathrooms and other senior citizen-friendly equipment in a house would prevent falls. An emergency button in a home would also help as people living nearby could be alerted if help is needed.

Former Kuala Lumpur Hospital director Datuk Dr Zaininah Mohd Zain said: “There is no magic wand to handle an ageing population. Different countries and cultures will have different approaches.”

On providing help to the elderly to ensure they are missed if they were to “suddenly disappear”, Zaininah said isolation impacts all demographics of the population, leading to a rise in mental health issues.

“The elderly who live alone should be encouraged to register with a local community centre or a senior citizens’ activity centre so that officials can make regular visits to check on their welfare.”

Zaininah urged senior citizens to exercise regularly as this could help them improve their overall health and well-being, leading to a better quality of life.

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