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March 14, 2012

Providing for the Elderly (MALAYSIA)

By  Meera

2 March 2012
Looking after the elderly is a collective responsibility, a retired judge tells Meera Murugesan

The issue of whether to compel children to care for elderly parents has yet to be addressed in Malaysia
GROWING old is unavoidable but we can control how we age. The term “healthy ageing” is often used in relation to senior citizens but few people realise that it concerns everyone, from the womb to the tomb. “Ageing is not confined to old people. It refers to a process that begins from the moment of conception and follows us throughout our lives and when we talk about healthy ageing, it means being the best that we can be throughout our lives,” says Datuk Mahadev Shankar.
 The retired court of appeal judge will be among the speakers at the 1st World Congress On Healthy Ageing in Kuala Lumpur from March 19-22. Mahadev, whose talk will focus on the legal issues related to ageing, says when it comes to healthy ageing, the government has a crucial role to play. “Part and parcel of the responsibility of any government is to take care of its people and how should the government do this? It will have to appropriate an equitable share of the country’s resources to ensure their good health,” he says.
KEEPING THE DOCTOR AWAY
Mahadev says while our country has one of the best healthcare systems in the world, right now much funding is being channelled to create the statistically perfect doctor-patient ratio. This is being done given the current scenario of over-crowded public hospitals and the anticipation of more people suffering from chronic diseases in the years to come. Mahadev also questions why this approach cannot be radically altered with funding spent on making the population healthier and reducing the need for doctors. He suggests the government  invest in healthy ageing by providing nutritious food, clean drinking water, a pollution free environment and ample facilities to ensure that people stay fit and active.
FOOD AND HEALTH
Clean water and air, healthy food and an active lifestyle are essential to a healthy body and consequently, healthy ageing. The government needs to be vigilant that these criteria are being properly met. Many people eat highly processed food because it’s affordable and easily available. As a result, obesity levels have risen dramatically. The public is also being bombarded with messages from large corporations offering food that we shouldn’t be eating and the few groups with healthy, nutritious options often find their voices being drowned out. Mahadev believes the government needs to effectively regulate the advertising of junk food, and the subject of healthy eating should also be incorporated into the school curriculum so children can learn to make wise choices at an early age. “We have a right to the best information to help us stay healthy and age healthily,” he adds.
CARE AND MAINTENANCE
The legal aspect of ageing also involves the control and supervision of nursing homes where many old people now spend their last days. The Private Healthcare Facilities and Services Act 1998 covers nursing homes and such organisations have to be registered with the government and abide by regulations. However, some small, privately run institutions are escaping the reach of the Act by claiming they don’t provide healthcare, only boarding. This opens the door to abuse of the elderly as such homes are not being supervised.
The abandonment of elderly parents is another matter that has to be looked into. Currently, under the law, children are not compelled to care for their parents. Singapore has addressed this by introducing the Maintenance Of Parents Act that allows elderly parents who are unable to fend for themselves, to claim maintenance from their children. Mahadev says that while we can introduce similar legislation, enforcement would be much more challenging in this country, given our larger population.
But he believes that while children shouldn’t be forced to provide luxuries for parents, there is certainly a case for making them provide the basic necessities of life should their parents become unable to fend for themselves. “The keyword is necessities just as the law now stipulates that parents must provide basic necessities for their young children.”

 SOURCE:     The New Straits Times
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