Sunday, April 8, 2012

Brunei - Rapidly ageing population poses challenges to society, country

IN the coming years, the world will witness lower fertility rates and higher life expectancy thus seeing the ageing population grow significantly bigger than the younger generation. Though Brunei's elderly population is considered to be at a manageable rate compared to other countries, it still anticipates an increasing ageing society.

According to an interview with The Brunei Times in 2007, Dr Alan Bush who was then the Head of Department of Public Policy at the Universiti of Brunei Darussalam projected that the ageing population would double from 3.5 per cent in 1991 to 6.5 per cent in 2011. In a recent interview, Datin Hajah Adina binti Othman, the Deputy Minister of the Ministry of Youth, Culture and Sports, revealed that the ageing population was at a rate of five per cent, a slightly lower figure projected by Dr Alan Bush in 2007.

"Definitely the rate of the ageing population will increase because of innovations in health, technology and lifestyle. For the moment, it is not something to be worried about but we cannot be complacent. We should already be taking steps towards more active ageing," said Datin Hajah Adina to The Brunei Times.

Dr Alan Bush in 2007 assured that only when Brunei's ageing population reaches 10 or 11 per cent would the issue be more of a concern.

"It is not severe at the moment, but when you get to the point of having 10 or 11 per cent of ageing population being dependant on a working population, a considerable amount of money will go to supporting an older population who are not usually economically productive," said Dr Alan Bush in 2007.

Dr Alan Bush defined an ageing population as "when birth rate is declining, and the population is not being replaced at the rate it used to be".

Among ways to facilitate the growing trend of an ageing population is to promote active and healthy ageing.

"The key word is active ageing, you grow old but you still keep active which would be good for you and for the quality of life," said Datin Hajah Adina in an interview with The Brunei Times.

Datin Hajah Adina stresses Brunei is still fortunate enough to have a caring society whereby looking after the elderly is still part of the country's tradition with extended families still in place. Brunei maintains strong family dynamics which is slowly perishing in other societies. Such dynamics has allowed Brunei to be able oppose ideas about institutionalising the elderly.

At the same time however, cases of concern regarding the care for senior citizens are slowly surfacing. Such active ageing as mentioned by Datin Hajah Adina not only involves the physical aspects of keeping healthy but also includes the mental and emotional aspects of ageing. Haji Hasbollah Haji Damit an executive member volunteer with the Department of Community Development (JAPEM) as well as an executive members to both Yayasan Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkia and non-governmental organisation Brunei Social Welfare Council has been volunteering to provide senior citizens with better livelihoods since 2005.

Based on his observations and experience working with the elderly and volunteers, Haji Hasbollah commented that a caring society starts from home where it is built upon caring for their own parents. His passion to help has allowed him to work with senior citizens who are left alone without any family left and elderly citizens deserted by their own family.

"Some of the youth volunteers were shocked as they witnessed some senior citizens in dire conditions and uncared ... These scenes have raised questions of whether or not we still have a loving and caring community," said Haji Hasbollah.

Haji Hasbollah has worked with several cases of senior citizens who were deserted by their own family.

"There was a case where an individual who lives in a big house left his elderly father to live in an old shack not far from him. His father had passed away for four days without this person noticing," recounts Haji Hasbollah.

Haji Hasbollah also speaks of another similar case that comprised several wealthy and highly-educated children leaving their ageing parents to live in dire conditions.

"These are educated people, why can't they use their intellect in these instances? It just shows civic responsibility and care are not there. Although it is only a small percentage but its presence within Brunei's small population calls for concern," said Haji Hasbollah.

Haji Hasbollah believes the presence of strong family morals as the solution where children are taught the value of parents and cherish the valuable time with parents.

" Working with senior citizens shows that as they grow older the only thing they want is unconditional love and care despite their faltering state of strength and condition," said Haji Hasbollah.

Haji Hasbollah calls upon more civic awareness to be put across to youth through subjects such as Melayu Islam Beraja (MIB), Islamic Religious Knowledge (IRK) while he applauds and encourages the National Service effort. Haji Hasbollah and fellow volunteers are trained professionally by the Department of Community Development to enhance the livelihoods of local senior citizens.

The Brunei Times

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