Defining Our Own Ageing Nation
In several Quranic verses, Allah the Almighty commands human beings to respect appreciate and honour their parents by doing good. The following verse beautifully describes the way parents should be treated, “And your Lord has decreed that you worship none but Him and that you be kind to parents, whether one or both of them attain old age in their life, say not to them a word of contempt (uff), nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: “My Lord! Bestow them thy mercy even as they cherished me in childhood.” (Surah al-Isra’ (17):23-24). In the same vein, the Prophet SAW also urged that parents and the elderly be loved and well treated where he said, “He is not of us (the one) who does not have mercy on our young children, nor honor our elderly.” (Al-Tirmizi)
With the changing times, some children face great challenges in fulfilling the needs of parents particularly the emotional and psychological aspects. It is undeniable that there are a lot of elderly people living their old age in deteriorating health, fear, depression and loneliness. This is partly due to the change in the family structure i.e. from extended family to nuclear family. In this context, the extended family which extends to include relatives such as uncles, aunts and cousins would be able to assist and support elderly care when needed. The migration of youths to the cities and involvement of women in the workforce due to economic and financial necessities have had some effects on the life and personal care for the elderly parents.
Some parents would prefer to stay in their own homes if they still have their spouse is still living with them. This trend could also be seen in other countries such as The Philippines, Brazil and Ecuador. For those who have lost their spouse, they may choose to stay with the children while in some situations they need to accept the fact that they have to spend their old age living alone. As reported in Kajian Penduduk dan Keluarga Malaysia Kelima, this situation is known as empty nest syndrome. The loneliness felt by these elderly parents would make the vulnerable to mental illnesses such as depression, social anxiety, paranoia, etc. It is observed that at Klinik Psikiatri, Hospital Besar Pulau Pinang, when the writer was there last June, found that most of the caregivers for elderly parents with mental illnesses are women, including two families met by the writer during the visit. One of the caregivers had to resign from her work in order to take care of her mother who has been diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s.
Meanwhile another caregiver is still working and makes every effort to ensure that she could play the role as an employee and caregiver efficiently. Her mother had been diagnosed as having psychosis and was previously struggling with chronic loneliness which leads to anxiety and depression. Both of them recognize the importance of a support system. The support system may consist of family members, neighbours, co-workers, support groups and a healthcare team. It would ensure that the caregivers receive appropriate advice, suggestions as well as information not only for the well-being of patient or the parents under their care but also for themselves.
Instead of having informal caregivers among the family members, there are also nursing homes run by various parties to provide care for elderly in this country. These nursing homes can be categorized into three types; government welfare senior care facilities, NGO and charitable care facilities, and privately run care facilities. Pusat Jagaan dan Pendidikan Warga Emas Darul Insyirah managed by Pusat Kecemerlangan Pendidikan Ummah (PACU) is one of the best examples. It is an elderly center offering daily, weekly and monthly care. This means that this centre serves as only a transit for elderly parents to spend their time in learning classes while their children are busy at work.
It is also equipped with comfortable facilities to ensure the elderly’s welfare and well-being. The spiritual well-being is the main goal targeted by this elderly care centre where it provides opportunities for the occupants to learn various knowledge such as al-Quran, Hadith and Arabic language to support life-long learning policy. This is in line with the objective of its establishment to design and implement educational programmes which enhance dignity, self-esteem and quality of life of senior citizens in the family and community. Interestingly, PACU aims at preparing the youths to serve and entertain the elderly in the care center. The involvement of young adults in this social work is important as one of the measures of a nation’s greatness is the way in which senior citizens are treated.
In preparing to be an ageing country when seven percent of its population will be 65 years and older by 2030, Malaysia should then set its own mould to be implemented and consequently, used as an exemplary model by others. The empowerment of its senior citizens should not only be done by focusing solely on provision of physical infrastructure. While this is important, efforts must also be taken to empower the elderly with learning and education for spiritual strengthening in tandem with National Policy for Older Person. In addition, policies regarding the welfare of formal and informal caregivers need to be re-examined. The presence and participation of the elderly in the family and society is important to ensure their well-being. In this context, the support system for the family and society need to be enhanced.
With the new Hijrah year, let us hope that there be prosperity and happiness to the lives of the family and society in general, as well as the elderly, in particular.