Many people are unaware of how the ageing population is becoming a concern in Malaysia and globally. This societal issue for developing countries has been debated for over a decade. The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development outlines older people as those who are beyond the age of 65.
Currently, ageing is more apparent in developed countries but less so in developing nations. This phenomenon affects the socioeconomic systems such as healthcare, public retirement plans and kinship structure of nations.
In Malaysia, the elderly is defined as individuals aged 60 years and above. The statistics in 2020 indicated that Malaysians aged 65 and above make up 7% of the population and are predicted to double by 2028. The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasises that all proportions of the population, including age and population groups, are responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative in the decision-making process at all levels.
By 2030, the UN predicts that Malaysia will reach the status of an old country when the population of those 60 years old and beyond attains 15% of the entire populace. In spite of this, the elderly in Malaysia is not given ample priority since they are always viewed as incapable, vulnerable and dependent.
Consequently, while the ageing trend and the issues involving the elderly continue to escalate and be of concern, there is a necessity for comfort and a safe home for their health and safety so they can sustain positive ageing during their lives as a part of the nation's development. There is a regular term called "active ageing" that is used in countries such as the United Kingdom, America and Japan which seem to be preeminently appreciative of their seniors and the elderly involvement in physical, economic and social aspects of countrywide development.
Unfortunately, Malaysia has been slow in tackling the tsunami of ageing people. Unawareness of the ageing population has led to less emphasis on the need for housing for old people. In other words, developers have not delivered housing schemes for the elderly, simply because there is no legislation or regulation in Malaysia that obliges housing developers to design and construct housing schemes to cater to their needs. This is where the concept of a retirement village comes about as one that can fulfil the needs of elderly housing.
In 2020, the government drafted a Retirement Village Act to regulate the development of retirement villages or houses by the private and public sectors but this proposal is so close and yet so far to drive the interest of developers in building retirement villages due to uncertainties for such a development.
Fundamentally, this programme offers the elderly accommodation in community settings that share lifestyles, facilities and amenities and for them to be able to live independently. However, the terminology of a retirement village in Malaysia is highly misinterpreted and miscomprehended as an old folks home where no one is there to look after them.
Public housing programme such as the Public Residential Care Home for the Elderly is carried out only to protect the vulnerable, poor, abandoned and needy senior citizens but not for the independent elderly. The Sri Seronok Retirement Village in Cheras is claimed to be the first settlement for retirees in Malaysia. Unfortunately, it is not a precise concept to be called a retirement village.
On the other hand, the Green Acres Retirement Home in Ipoh and Eden-on-the-Park in Kuching are the most accurate retirement village concepts in Malaysia. They were constructed based on a blueprint from Australia in 2017. But then, these retirement villages were marketed as luxury retirement homes, primarily targeting mid-high to low-upper class buyers since the cost of development is very high to cater to elderly-friendly designs as well as special facilities and services.
Even though it is a new idea for Malaysians, this housing concept is well-liked by senior citizens in developed countries and is often regarded as a suitable and practical alternative for retirees. According to the Australia Retirement Village Association, some 138,000 of the country's elderly residents were moved to 1,850 retirement villages in 2011 and the number is projected to triple in the next few years. The average age of the elderly moving into the villages is 75 years old while the average age of people living there is 80 years old. According to PricewaterhouseCoopers, the gender ratio is considerably different, with only 35% of residents being men and 65% women.
Nonetheless, there is no legal term concerning retirement villages in Malaysia because it is considered a new idea but broadly acknowledged as a practical choice of accommodation and appropriate space to stay for old people.
Since the baby boomer generation sees themselves as more than just grandparents who stay at home to care for their grandchildren, the retirement landscape is set to evolve. In their later years, old people definitely hope to live a more productive life. It is likely that the Malaysian elderly have favourable opinions on the retirement village concept.
It is timely for the government to introduce this concept to the elderly. Malaysia needs to step up its game in enforcing the Retirement Village Act and produce its own model that suits a specific market to attract the interest of developers.
Since the proportion of seniors living alone in Malaysia has increased sharply from 5.1% in 2004 to 9% in 2014, such an act will not only help Malaysia in adapting to its ageing population but also be proof of how this country is serious in tackling problems relating to ageing nation.
In 2017, Michael Yam, who was formerly president of the Real Estate and Housing Developers Association, predicted that the demand for retirement villages in Malaysia would increase over the next five years. Malaysia will be able to offer a wealth of prospects for the establishment of retirement villages to align itself with SDG target 11.3 which points out the inclusivity and sustainability of urbanisation for sustainable human settlement planning.
The elderly require a special living arrangement whereby the facilities and other attributes must be in accordance with their abilities. This issue can only be addressed through proper legal framework and policy for the sake of the elderly.
Mashitah is a Research Analyst Intern at Institut Masa Depan Malaysia.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of MalaysiaNow.