Old Age Mental Health
Malaysia is going to be an ageing country very soon. This is real and based on the projection by the Department of Statistics Malaysia, it is expected that by the year 2030, 15.3 percent of the total population will be 60 years old and above. At that time, the elderly population will reach approximately 5.8 million. Across the human life span, the age of 60 years and above is a critical time for the elderly especially in their survival, from the aspects of health, finance and economy, welfare and safety. Is the society currently well aware and ready to face the situation?
According to the data from various sources, the number of population in Malaysia aged 60 and over is increasing. At the same time, the proportion of the population aged 15 and below is decreasing (Department of Social Welfare, 2014). The increase in the elderly population in 2022 in Malaysia is at the rate of 3.6 million compared to 3.3 million in 2020, which shows a stable and gradual increase within three years (Department of Statistics Malaysia, 2022). In addition, the life expectancy of the Malaysian population is also increasing, from 71.9 years (2011) to 77 years (2013) for men, and 77 years (2011) to 79 years (2013) for women (Utusan Malaysia, 2013). These statistics show that well-being of the elderly is an important issue that needs unduly respective attention.
It is a matter of fact that every individual has their own expectations when it comes to old age. They all want a better future in every aspects of life. They want to be healthy physically, being financially strong, having good family and so on. However, when being sparked with those questions that come to mind, we have no answers, rather a feeling of ambivalence and uncertainty for the future.
Surely we hope that a lot of things can be done for a better future, for our own selves also the future generation, with the hope that finally the elderly will be well taken care of in all aspects of their life, mainly health care and well-being. The hope that they will not be left alone in shelter homes and being socially withdrawn, with no one to turn to when the need arises.
It is understood that late life marks the stage where aging is a trademark and many significant bodily changes will happen. Elderly people can usually be detected through physical characteristics such as wrinkled faces and skin sagging, weak bodies, blurred vision and so on. Physical changes that can be seen during aging are skin thinning, blood vessels thickening, joint pain, enlarged prostate gland and less androgen hormones for men and menopause for women. Those are the biological and physical changes that happen to every one due to aging process. As life goes on, women will experience ‘menopause’ when they reach old age while men, on the other hand, will have ‘andropause’.
At this age they need constant attention and love and some of them even need very thorough care because they become child-like as a result of the biological changes and vulnerabilities. This is exactly as what Islam explains as stated in the Quran when Allah says in surah Ghaafir meaning:
‘It is He who created you from dust, then from a seed, then from an embryo, then He brings you out as an infant, then He lets you reach your maturity, then you become elderly—although some of you die sooner—so that you may reach a predetermined age, so that you may understand’.
Due to the biological and psychosocial vulnerabilities of ageing and elderly, there are increasing related conditions associated with old age. Among other conditions are mental or emotional and behavioural health conditions. A comprehensive research report by the Malaysian National Health and Morbidity Survey in 2019 indicates that depression is among the major mental illness conditions affecting the adult population. The national prevalence of adult depression is estimated to be around 2.3% or half a millions populations.
Similarly, neurocognitive related illnesses such as dementia, memory impairment and strokes are also increasing as people age. As previously mentioned in the Quran in surah Ghaafir about old age and loss of cognitive abilities, the Prophet Muhammad S.A.W said in a hadith narrated by Imam al-Bukhari, showing the way to get rid of that condition with the du’a, meaning ‘O Allah, I seek refuge with You from cowardice, miserliness, and from being sent back to a feeble age’, thus indicating a spiritual approach in the prevention of such illness. In conclusion, as the elderly are increasing in number, the country has to be well-prepared to face the challenges and demands that arises. Suitable related facilities in mental and behavioural health care need some boosters in manpower to assist suitable accommodation for the elderly. Spiritual perspective in managing them is also important as it can offer precious benefits and opportunities for a better life ahead.