Healthy when young, healthy when old

The Star- Saturday, 2 April 2016

BY LOH FOON FONG

KUALA LUMPUR: Staying healthy from an early age keeps the nursing home at bay – that is the message from the Health Ministry and aged care specialists.

They have urged Malaysians to put serious efforts into caring for their physical and mental health in order to reduce the need for nursing care in old age.

Deputy Health Minister Datuk Seri Dr Hilmi Yahaya said having good mental health would enable one to realise one’s potential, be better able to cope with daily stress, work productively and contribute to society.

“It’s important to address the contributing factors that affect mental health as we age such as physical health, loneliness, social support and financial stability,” he said during the 8th Malaysian Conference on Healthy Ageing – Making Mental Health a Priority for Healthy Ageing opening ceremony yesterday.

The National Health and Morbidity Survey revealed an almost three-fold increase in mental health problems among those above age 16, from 10.6% in 1996 to 29.2% in 2015, with depression and anxiety disorders as the most common.

While the highest prevalence of mental health problems were those aged 16-19 years, one in four above age 60 have these problems, said Dr Hilmi.

For the elderly, mental health risks were often associated with brain-related diseases such as dementia, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, along with familial and social neglect, and loneliness, he said.

In Malaysia, the prevalence of dementia was estimated to be 63,000 people in 2005 with annual incidence cases of 20,100, he said.

This number was projected to be 126,800 by 2020, with new cases of 39,000 annually, he said.

Dr Hilmi said the ministry had developed mental health programmes that encompassed screening, early detection, treatment and psychosocial rehabilitation, adding that 20 community mental health centres have been set up nationwide.

It also needed more psychiatrists especially psycho-geriatricians and occupational therapists, he said.

“There is also a need for professionally trained mental health personnel in nursing homes and the setting up of day-care centres for the elderly,” he said.

Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society president Dr Lim Poh Hin said that looking to the Government alone to provide care for the elderly would not be economically possible for any country.

He said the people needed to be empowered to take responsibility for their future health.

“Preventive medicine with a good lifestyle can avert all these problems.

“It should be a collective responsibility,” he said.

Malaysian Mental Health Association (MMHA) deputy president Datuk Dr Andrew Mohanraj said the association hoped to see more community mental health centres set up in view of the growing number of people with psychosocial disabilities who were not getting the right help.

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