The Big Picture–The Asian Elderly Tsunami

The Big Picture–The Asian Elderly Tsunami

An ageing population is described as the declines in fertility rates and/or rising life expectancy, and with minimum 7% of its population aged 65 and older, while an aged nation has 14 percent or more in that age group.

According to data from World Population Prospects: the 2015 Revision (United Nations, 2015), the number of older persons – those aged 60 years or over – has increased substantially in recent years in most countries and regions, and that growth is projected to accelerate in the coming decades. And globally, it projected the number of people aged 60 or above will more than double from the current 962 million to 2.1 billion in 2050 and more than triple to 3.1 billion in 2100.

The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences documented, at present, the number of Malaysians aged 60 years and above is estimated to be 1.4 million and is projected to increase to 3.3 million in the year 2020.

While data and statistics from the Department of Statistics Malaysia (DOSM), showed that Malaysians life expectancy has risen over 20 years since 1957, and the average life expectancy of an average Malaysian at birth now stands at 74.9 years of age.

Reports have shown that one of the most pressing needs Malaysians face is the coming ageing population crisis and advocating and ensuring that proper healthcare for the elderly is in place.

People of all ages in Asia expect that governments will play a bigger role in supporting them in their old age. For example, one way is by providing care for the frail and incapacitated, How countries meet these expectations will be a key social, economic, and political challenge in the coming years. Unlike countries in other regions, most nations in Asia have not built nursing homes or the long-term facilities one sees in America, Europe, or Australia. And, we expect few governments will take this course as the massive funding required will not be available. Most importantly, however, in Asia, putting one’s parents in government-run homes is not the honourable thing to do.

To be successful in addressing seniors’ health care and independent living needs, governments must transform healthcare systems into a model focused on primary care, with improved care management across all levels of the healthcare ecosystem, efficient care delivery, and better prevention of noncommunicable diseases. Healthcare systems will also need to address diseases of old age, such as dementia, and develop long-term care policies that combine traditional family support with a strengthened community- and home-based care systems. Assuming one can simply go into an old-age home at a certain point to address primary care needs or long-term diseases, is not a likely outcome for most people, particularly in Asia. Seniors will need different types of housing based on their particular health status, ability to pay, and the needs of their children and others in their lives.

What, therefore, can people do to care for an ageing population who will not enter traditional nursing homes, will not live with their children forever (if at all), and are living a lot longer? Increasingly, alternative housing situations where the elderly can continue to live independently is seen as the most viable option on a long-term basis in Asia for several reasons:

  • Allows people to remain independent in places like their homes, which results in a much higher quality of life.
  • Offers the full spectrum of services at in smaller, residential situations ranging from assisting with daily activities (shopping, eating, grooming, etc.) to nursing support (wound dressing, medication reminders, physiotherapy, etc.) to full medical services, particularly for people with chronic illnesses.
  • Takes the burden off loved ones–particularly children–who need to work to support their families or may live far away.
  • Can be more cost effective for the middle income demographic because, if done well, private providers of residences can offer flexible pricing and products and services tailored to each family’s needs–without breaking the bank for those needing it.

Most importantly, having seniors share residences combats the #1 issue among the elderly: being lonely.  Many researchers have now linked chronic loneliness to increased rates of illness and even premature death. In fact, loneliness and social isolation may represent a greater public health hazard than obesity, and their impact has been growing and will continue to grow, according to research presented at the 125th Annual Convention of the American Psychological Association (APA). When we make people feel lonely they also get sadder, but loneliness is feeling like you no longer have friends or aid at your disposal. We know loneliness makes you feel terrible. It’s bad for your mental health: well-being goes down, depressive symptoms go up, your likelihood of developing mental and affective disorders increases.

It’s also bad for your physical health. In a meta-analysis of 3 million people, which controlled for confounding factors such as demographics and objective isolation, loneliness increased odds of an early death by 26%, according to the APA. In our view, rather than having widows or widowers–who are most likely to feel lonely–living alone, shared living as envisioned by Eldershare offers an opportunity to not only provide the needed care and comfort seniors need but can help address this growing problem throughout the world.

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