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How old should one be in order to be called a senior citizen? There are apparent differences between the Oriental and Western definition of “old”.
In Asian countries like Malaysia, China, Singapore, Thailand, Indonesia or India, you are considered “old” if you are aged 58 and above. In Western countries, though, you are not old until you reach 67.
Thanks to rapid progress in medical care technology, people are enjoying longer lifespans as a result of a remarkably improved quality of life, making senior citizen issues all the more pertinent for governments worldwide.
The percentage of senior citizens in Malaysia’s population is anticipated to climb to 11.1% by 2020, and upward to 19.8% by 2040. Any country with a percentage of senior citizens in excess of 15% could be categorised as an ageing society.
Malaysia will become one in 20 years, and now is the time to plan for the future whether we want senior citizens to become useful pillars of society, or a burden to us.
Urban well-being, housing and local government minister Noh Omar said he believed senior citizens would choose to spend their remaining years in cities, and as such the government would do its best to turn our cities into senior-friendly communities.
Indeed, the WHO (World Health Organisation) has set out criteria for an age-friendly city encompassing eight different areas, namely transportation, housing, social participation, community and health services, communication and information, civic participation and employment, respect and social inclusion, as well as outdoor spaces and buildings.
Noh Omar has only touched lightly on the need to create age-friendly communities without making mention of any of the above criteria. I have no idea how the Malaysian government is going to create cities that are suitable for senior citizens.
The Singapore government had long anticipated the crisis of an ageing society, and in 2015 introduced the Action Plan for Successful Ageing with over 70 initiatives covering 12 areas: health and wellness, learning, volunteerism, employment, housing, transport, public spaces, respect and social inclusion, retirement adequacy, healthcare and aged care, protection for vulnerable seniors and research, four more than WHO’s recommendation.
Singapore has systematically put the action plan into implementation, focusing mainly on three aspects: to satisfy the needs of an ageing society, to provide seniors with employment opportunities and to create a city for all ages.
In meeting the needs of an ageing society, for instance, the government will provide adequate nursing homes, home care services and daycare centres.
As for job opportunities, the re-employment age will be raised from 65 to 67 to enable seniors to work longer if they are willing and able to.
As for senior-friendly infrastructure, more than 500 road junctions at nine “Silver Zones” island-wide will be fitted with extended green-man traffic light timings to allow seniors to have ample time crossing the road.
Noh Omar has not earmarked any location for our own age-friendly communities nor any model for them. The year 2040 is not too far away, and if our urban well-being, housing and local government ministry has yet to come up with any substantial plan, perhaps it can take a look at Singapore’s Action Plan for Successful Ageing.
Although we currently have 45 senior citizen activity centres, and some developers are setting up retirement villages or providing healthcare facilities and other senior-friendly features in their housing projects, the government still needs to have a comprehensive plan to tackle the problem of ageing 20 years down the road, not just cafes and shops to cater to the needs of seniors.
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