Many countries are now facing the problem of an ageing population, including Malaysia. However like the many countries, able Malaysians must start preparing for their own future ageing and one of the ways include geriatric care professionals to help other states in Malaysia that do not have such services.

In the past five years, there have been many calls for more geriatricians to be employed in each state to aid in caring for the elderly who suffer from diseases such as Alzheimer's, dementia and arthritis.

Prof Dr Philip Poi Jun Hua from the Malaysian Society of Geriatric Medicine (MSGM), who pioneered and now leads the Geriatrics Division of University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC), Kuala Lumpur, said, "The biggest issue for health professionals is to be able to persevere in providing good services for older adults in Malaysia…because they themselves will grow old, and if they don't think about it now, when they get old, it is too late for them."

Those who are currently in the sunset of their lives, perhaps, would not benefit as much from the development of the services because they would have passed on by the time such services are developed, he added.

However, it is still vital to remember how they lived out their old age, "was it a dignified death or was it a death of suffering and discomfort because of the lack of services." 

"So start sowing the seeds of interest and awareness so that health professionals will commit themselves to providing quality healthcare for those older than them and for their own old age when they get there."

Ideal geriatric care is woefully far from current figures

Prof Poi has stated that ideally, the ratio of doctor-patient in geriatric care should be 1:5,000. This would mean that there are at least one to two geriatricians per state in the county.

"Which means there would be 26 geriatricians in 13 states but given a population of 29 million, the ratio is 1 per million as there are presently 29 geriatricians in Malaysia. But then many have gone into private practice," he lamented.

However, the ratio is just a matter of quantity, whereas the quality and the ability of the geriatrician to get a multidisciplinary team of interested people – nurses, occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, the social worker and even the dietician, all working together with a common goal, which is to prevent disabilities in the older person, is the most important.

"Disability is the thing that kills your hope and your desire to live comfortably. You cannot live comfortably because of your disability, so we have to avoid that," Prof Poi said.

Thus, one of the key future challenges of geriatric care is not just the shortage of geriatricians but the quality of care.

"Just having more doctors doesn't mean better quality care. You need more of everybody (nurse, physiotherapist, occupational therapist, etc) involved in the care of the elderly."

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