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Malaysia’s Sarawak state prepares for an ‘aging society’

By 2028, the Christian-majority state will have about 15 percent elderly population
Fatimah Abdullah (right), the Minister of Women, Childhood and Community Wellbeing Development in Sarawak state of Malaysia speaks during a discussion on the elderly population in the state on Sept. 5, 2022

Fatimah Abdullah (right), the Minister of Women, Childhood and Community Wellbeing Development in Sarawak state of Malaysia speaks during a discussion on the elderly population in the state on Sept. 5, 2022. (Photo: The Borneo Post)

Published: June 06, 2023 11:17 AM GMT
Updated: June 06, 2023 11:45 AM GMT

Efforts are underway in Malaysia’s Christian-majority state Sarawak to cope with a gradual rise in the elderly population as it is expected to become an officially aging state in the next five years.

Since 2020, the elderly population in Sarawak has been increasing by 0.55 percent per year, and the elderly account for 12.6 percent of the state’s estimated total population of 2.5 million, according to the Department of Statistics.

About 42 percent of Sarawak’s population are Christians, government data shows.

As of November 2022, the state’s elderly population was 311,600.

At the current pace, Sarawak will be officially an aging state by 2028 when it will have 15 percent elderly people, Edgar Ong, a former business executive, filmmaker and journalist said in an article published in the Borneo Post on June 3.  

Ong also referred to a 2020 study by two teachers of Universiti Malaysia Sarawak (Unimas) titled “The quality of life among the elderly people in Sarawak.”

The study showed that 64.6 percent of respondents were ‘satisfied’ with their quality of life.

About 61.5 percent of the respondents were still living with their partners, while the rest were single, widowed, or separated.

As for their current overall health, 59.2 percent were satisfied with their overall health, with 28.5 percent expressing dissatisfaction with theirs.

Close family bonds and social activities seem to play immensely important roles in the well-being and mental and physical health of the respondents, Ong said.

It is vital that elderly members of the family are always included in any and all family activities, be they within the household or going out for a meal, an outing, or just a car ride, he pointed out.

He warned that their lack of social interaction with others might make them more and more ‘anti-social’ and lead them to withdraw further into themselves.

When an elderly person loses a lifetime partner due to death or disability, the younger family members must continuously make extra efforts to ensure that the previously active social life of their elders is not suddenly curtailed due to any cessation of social interaction between life-long close friends, Ong said.

“Families must do their best to ensure continuity in whatever activities had been the norm – be it some charitable or welfare work, or being active in faith be it in church, temple or mosque,” he said.

The elderly need to be encouraged in continuing various activities such as travel or light exercise (line-dancing, gym) or coffee mornings, or simply meeting up for some chit-chats at their favorite coffee shops, he said.

The elderly can also find interesting stuff by surfing on social media such as Facebook, YouTube, TikTok, and Spotify, and even by subscribing to streaming sites like Netflix.

Ong said research data shows women live longer compared to men.

He recalled that during a recent visit to a nursing home, he found that it housed about 20 senior citizens, comprising 17 women and three men.

Such facilities offer standard living space for elderly people who are lonely – green, clean and efficient, and hardworking staff.

However, it was a ‘distressing’ experience to see elderly people forced to live away from their families.

Such facilities cost 2,500-4,000 ringgits (US$543-864) per month, yet the feeling of loneliness, emptiness, and a forlornness tug at one’s heartstrings, he recalled.

There are many more state-run homes for the aged that house hundreds more throughout the country.

In a press release from Nov 30, 2022, the Minister of Women, Childhood and Community Wellbeing Development in Sarawak Fatimah Abdullah stated that the government is taking measures to support the rising elderly population.

“As a preparation to face the issue of an aging society in the state, my ministry will carry out a study titled ‘Research on Preparation for an Ageing Nation: The Profile of an Ageing Issue Affecting the Elderly in Sarawak’ next year,” she said.

Abdullah said the ministry is committed to taking care of the welfare of individuals with disabilities (OKU) through the One Stop Outreach Registration Centre to expedite the registration of this community so that they could enjoy various benefits.

She said a total of 44,801 OKUs had been registered under the OKU Information System. Her ministry had also approved the setting up of four homeless transit centers: each in Kuching, Sibu, Bintulu, and Miri.

From January to October last year, the state government provided monthly assistance to 53,040 elderly beneficiaries.

Sarawak’s chief minister, Abang Johari Openg said on March 18 that Sarawak needs to prepare itself for an aging society.

He said he supports the state Ministry of Women, Early Childhood, Community Wellbeing Development’s efforts to conduct a study on the aging population of Sarawak.

“This means we need to have a support system for the aging society,” Openg was quoted as saying by Malay Mail.

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