Growing old in Malaysia can be very costly; The high cost of ageing in the country

Rising costs are affecting everyone in Malaysia. But Malaysia’s elderly and their caregivers appear to be the worst hit.

A picture of a Malay family in Malaysia
Rising costs are affecting everyone in Malaysia. But Malaysia’s elderly and their caregivers appear to be the worst hit. (Photo: Getty Images)


A weakened ringgit, inflation and increased cost of living have resulted in many Malaysians feeling the pinch.

Not spared are the country's elderly population, who might actually be facing the toughest times what with having to grapple with the twofold challenge of insufficient retirement savings and the rising prices of everything from food to healthcare.

True, the government has promised better distribution of aid and subsidies under initiatives like the Central Database Hub (PADU).

Yet, the effectiveness of the various measures is left to be seen, and at the moment, not only are Malaysia's senior citizens struggling to cope, so, too, are their caregivers and families.

Take the case of Cassandra Michelle Paujik, for instance.

The 37-year-old explains that she was always determined to give her mother, who battled five cancer recurrences in the past decade, and her late father, who died from Parkinson's disease and progressive supranuclear palsy in 2002, the very best. This has required extremely careful prioritisation of finances.

She says that most of her earnings from her job at a financial institution go towards caregiving expenses, which is challenging when everything, from food, medication and adult diapers to mobility aids such as wheelchairs and canes, has been going up in price.

"I've seen prices range from RM40 to RM50 for a pack of adult diapers. Yes, there are cheaper options. But when it comes to something as important as my parents' comfort and well-being, I always try to go for the best quality," Paujik says.

Lester Calvin Miol, a 39-year-old general manager, who became the sole caregiver for his mother when she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's, faces a similar problem.

But the real challenge, he admits, is balancing caring for his mum and managing his own household.

"When my mother's condition advanced, we brought in hired help to assist with her care. Now, over the weekends, she stays in a care centre. This gives our family some breathing space, as I have to consider my young daughter's mental health too," he explains.

Alas, the cost of this arrangement has been significant, and can easily rise to RM9,000 a month, Miol says.

Incidentally, even civil service pensioners and their families appear to be struggling.

An NGO manager who wishes to be known only as Dalilah, for one, explains that her 66-year-old stroke survivor and partially disabled father is eligible for free public healthcare as he is both a government retiree and holds a persons with disabilities (OKU) card. Yet, congestion and overcrowding at Malaysia's public medical facilities mean that there have been many times when Dalilah and her family have had to opt for private treatment.

"My father was hospitalised a few months back and had to wait for 12 hours before getting a bed at the emergency department. After that, he waited another 30 hours for a bed in the medical ward," she says.

However, private medical treatment is expensive, with Dalilah noting that a quick visit to a private hospital can easily cost RM400.

So, whose problem is all of this, and what should be done?

To Malaysia Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) council member Dr Kejal Hasmukharay, caring for the aged ought to be everyone's responsibility. Regrettably, many challenges persist, most notably in terms of medical care.

For instance, she explains that due to a shortage of geriatricians, there is a long waiting time for specialised care services in government healthcare facilities.

"Private healthcare may offer faster access, but not everyone can afford the steep costs.

"This is why it's crucial for all healthcare professionals to be equipped with knowledge of geriatric care."

The consultant physician and geriatrician further advocates for universal healthcare to cover diverse elder care needs, from diabetes check-ups to post-stroke rehabilitation. She also suggests having more community awareness programmes that focus on preventative rather than curative health measures.

The reality, however, is that all this requires expenditure, especially to Putrajaya, which like other governments around the world, is finding it tough to care for an ageing population in the face of slow economic growth.

This, nevertheless, is why Ambank Group chief economist Firdaos Rosli says that the powers that be ought to, first and foremost, focus on reforms to the taxation system to both address the decline in revenue due to an ageing population and to increase the country's income to help fund elderly care.

He opines: "The government is already pursuing indirect tax reforms by reviewing the Sales and Services Tax (SST) and adjusting taxes on high and low-value goods, all while managing operating expenses or expenditure through subsidy rationalisation.

"Malaysia's ministries and agencies are also working together to improve social protection schemes, and bolster confidence among ageing citizens. Hence, for now, our focus should stay on the taxation system."

But even as Firdaos adds that the government knows that spending on social protection should not hurt projects that help the economy, like upgrading public infrastructure, there is no doubt that certain tough decisions may need to be made.

The big question, then, is whether a reformed tax policy on top of certain already announced measures — like subsidy rationalisation, a flexible Employees' Provident Fund (EPF) structure and the shaking up of public pensions — will indeed make things better for elderly Malaysians.

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