You might have read about it in the news, heard the topic being discussed on morning radio programmes, perhaps even given it some thought in relation to your own family or retirement plans. But how much do you really know about ageing societies and the issue of ageing populations, especially in Asia?

At the pace the world is evolving today, many changes have been witnessed since the last century. As developing countries overcome their struggles, turn into developed countries, and seek to further improve themselves, 2018 presents us with advances in all aspects – not limited to technology and healthcare – so much so that a person could be considered “left in the dust” for dwelling on things that are only half a year old.

So why are ageing nations, or rather, ageing societies a thing? As advances occur, especially in the medical field, the issue of demographic change is imminent. Declining fertility rates and rising life expectancies are all thanks to the works of such advances in healthcare. Today, the amount of those aged over 60 in developing countries is twice that of the developed world.

One of the countries with the worst case of ageing population is undoubtedly Japan. It is already one of the world’s oldest nations, with a median age of 46, and it is predicted that by 2040 there will be three senior citizens for every child under the age of 15. This is due to Japan having the highest life expectancy of any country in the world – 83.7, and a very low fertility rate of 1.45. Similarly, the number of Malaysians aged 60 and above is estimated to be 1.4 million, and this number is projected to increase to 3.3 million in 2020, based on figures by the Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences.

Due to the overall population ageing, resulting in retirement, the Overall Age Dependency Ratio (OADR) increases, weakening economic stems with a lessening workforce while adding to it the increasing burden of an ageing population. Nevertheless, even with the decline in average mortality, it cannot be made out clearly that societies have aged, due to the fact that the “ageing effect” is being offset by the “longevity effect” (decreased mortality rates at all ages). When the ageing effect occurs, the shift of birth rates implies that the aged section of the population will increase in size. The consequences of having an ageing population include labour shortages (especially in healthcare, hospitality, construction, and agriculture), school closures, the emergence of ‘ghost’ towns as the population decreases and young people move to bigger cities, and increased burden on elderly welfar, just to name a few.

However little worth the title “elderly” or “senior citizen” may imply, it is undeniable that the ageing society is a pool of people with a wealth of life and work experience; plenty of work is to be done to change prejudices about this group of people in society, and they deserve to enjoy their golden years with respect and exciting new experiences. This is one thing that Malaysia needs to hit the refresh button on: the way the aged population is regarded by society. Despite the common (mis)conception that the elderly are not able to keep up with technology, it is more than highly likely that moving into the future, seniors will become increasingly digitally savvy and will be able to enjoy the conveniences afforded by technology. This will give rise to more senior citizens preferring to live independently and age-in-place within a supportive community.

Stay tuned for more updates in the coming weeks!