The 20th century witnessed a historic demographic transition whereby life expectancy increased at birth and at all ages, including old age. The global net balance of older people has been increasing by about one million persons a month, of whom two-thirds live in the developing world. The rate of growth of the oldest old, that is those over 80 years, is growing fastest of all, in all parts of the world.
This demographic shift towards an older population has to be seen in the context of rapid economic change, shifting attitudes towards social welfare and large-scale migration. International migration and rural-urban migration have led to major changes in family structures and the older people's role in their own communities. Epidemiological transition as a model proposes that as populations "modernize" and age, the patterns of causes of death and morbidity change. The change is characterized by a shift from the predominance of infectious diseases and pandemics to more chronic or degenerative and lifestyle diseases. Positive medical interventions, advanced medical technology, improved standards of living, nutrition, education, hygiene and housing have been contributory to this change.
To understand the norms that older people will bring into this century, it is important to look at it from the following perspectives - social, economic, cultural and personal. Older people are as diverse socially, culturally and economically as any other age group though there are some distinguishing features.
Life expectancy in Malaysia has increased from 55.8 years for men and 58.2 years for women in 1957 to 70.2 years and 75 years respectively in 2000. The increased longevity helped by declining mortality rates has resulted in an increasing older population, from 5.2% in 1970, 5.7% in 1980 and 5.9% in 1991, to 6.2% in 2000 (Source : Social Welfare Dept., 2004). It was projected that by 2005, Malaysia would enter the ranks of the 'Ageing Nations of the World' with 1.7 million or 7.2% of the population being senior citizens (United Nations source, 1993). By further projections, 15% of the Malaysian population would be old by 2025.
THE MALAYSIAN SENIOR CITIZEN'S CHARTER AFFIRMS THAT THE OLDER PERSON HAS A RIGHT TO:
- Safe shelter, proper healthcare and income-generating opportunities that are elderly-friendly;
- Clean, hygienic, stress-free environment and adequate nourishment that promote a healthy quality of life;
- Recreational facilities, family-care and community-harmony that promote physical and emotional well-being;
- Educational facilities and life-long learning opportunities that promote social and mental well-being; and
- Inter-generational initiatives to blend the experiences of older persons and the talents of the younger generation to promote a society for all ages.
Prepared by the MMA Committee for the Health of the Older Person, and launched during the 45th MMA Annual General Meeting in Melaka on 28th May 2005