The Necessity for Informal Care for the Elderly during MCO
During the implementation of the MCO, the government has encouraged and urged firms and employers to address the challenges of child care due to the temporary shutdown of schools and child care centres. Among of them are allowing employees to work from home if possible as well as to take turns accordingly with their spouses in coming to the office. Although it is merely on a voluntary basis, many firms and employers have responded positively to the call by allowing workers to take turns to ensure the well-being of their young children at home.
Even though not all labour sectors have such flexibility, the effort is seen as a success for all Malaysians including the government, employers and the public in understanding the importance of care issues in general.
Understanding the importance of care in general should also be extended to the elderly. Indeed, caring for the elderly has its own challenges to the caregivers, especially the working children.
Malaysia is expected to become an old nation by 2030 when individuals of 60 years old and above exceeds 15 per cent of the population. This is not an uncommon situation as the life expectancy of Malaysians is increasing.
The increase of the elderly or ageing population is also one of the characteristics of developed countries. For example, in the UK, the population of those aged 65 and above is one out of every five individuals in 2018. Whereas in Japan in 2020, the number of individuals aged 65 and above is about 25 per cent of the total population.
Based on the data, the ageing population is expected to continuously increase in the future. Therefore, to accommodate such an increase, the number of facilities namely health, care and social support should also be enhanced to ensure that the elderly receive a good quality of life.
Healthy ageing becomes the main goal when we reach the golden age. Even so, several factors prevent the elderly from getting quality living at the end of their life. Among the challenges experienced by many in their senior age are having to deal with chronic illnesses, living in poverty, being lonely and grappling with emotional stress. Unfortunately, almost similar challenges inflict the informal caregivers of the elderly, albeit at a younger age.
Traditionally, the responsibility of caregiving usually rests exclusively on a female member at home in the family or society such as the wife, mother, child, daughter-in-law, siblings, relatives or neighbours. However, as many women receive education nowadays that lead them to participate in the labour sector, the role as caregivers is no longer home-exclusive. Today, the role of a caregiver is also regarded as a profession which can generate income, apart from it being as a form of filial piety for both sons and daughters.
Generally, Malaysia still adopts the traditional concept of informal care for the elderly. This means that most family members and the local community provide care service to the elderly rather than enrol them in formal care institutions. In fact, women also remain as the main caretakers of the elderly.
According to Khadijah Alavi in a 2007 study, some adult children are unable to provide care for their parents especially those with chronic illnesses. The children are in need of help and support from agencies such as the Social Welfare Department and public health services to care for their elderly parents, especially those who suffer from physical and mental incapabilities.
The same study also shows the difference in care service challenges between disabled/partial disabled elderly with those who can still care for themselves. Therefore, support from related agencies, communities, and families in particular, is highly important to assist caregivers in taking care of the elderly.
Among the duties as a caregiver include providing emotional support; helping with house chores such as preparing meals and house cleaning; assisting the elderly’s physical needs such as bathing, eating, taking medicine and bringing them for hospital appointments; as well as, managing their financial matters.
Such tasks need to be done by the caregiver as the elderly themselves experience a continuous decline in biological and psychological functioning. As such, it can be equally stressful for caregivers when they do not get proper support from others.
In Islam, the degradation of the human functioning for the aged is mentioned in Surah Yasin verse 68. The verse reminds us that such a situation is a form of a test not only on the individual, but also on those who are close to them. Therefore, in dealing with such a natural phenomenon, each child is obliged to be persistently gentle to both parents as they age (Al Isra’: 23).
In the light of this fact, it is clear that we need to emphasise care service to the elderly. Not only is it about improving their quality of life, but also the life of their caregivers. We need to be ready in exploring the new segment of elderly care service in line with present requirements.
Such preparations include expanding community centre services for the elderly, providing relevant subsidies to caregivers especially those who fully care for their disabled elderly, providing and encouraging community-based training as caregiver, creating more job opportunities in geriatric sector, offering and encouraging flexibility in the working sector in order to sustain the caregiver’s income, providing psychological support to both caregiver and the elderly as well as changing the misconception of the formal institutions as a dumping place for the elderly.
Indeed, Malaysians in general still maintain informal care as a top priority for caring the elderly. Such an option, however, should come with a package that improves the quality of life of the elderly.
To achieve the objective, everyone must be willing to accept the reality of ageing which will be experienced by all if given a long life. However, such a long life is riven with uncertainties such as being able to manage ourselves or having to depend heavily on others. Therefore, we should strive now by preparing ourselves for healthy and quality ageing in the future, and practise a healthy lifestyle financial management.
Let us make supplications for our parents and love them wholeheartedly, “And lower unto them the wing of humility through mercy, and say: ‘My Lord! Bestow on them Your Mercy as they did bring me up’” (Al-Isra’: 24).