This article first appeared in BERNAMA.
PETALING JAYA: Elderly patients who test positive for Covid-19 will be the first ones to suffer from the overloaded healthcare system, a medical expert warns.
Dr. Tan Maw Pin, professor of geriatric medicine at Universiti Malaya, said there have been cases of senior citizens being left at home and deprived of treatment because of the lack of beds at public hospitals.
“They are the ones who will need immediate medical attention. But no one will be willing to pick them up, because there is a strict policy that they must be collected by the district health office,” she told FMT.
Those most affected will be senior citizens living in areas that have been recording a high number of daily cases such as Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, and Sabah, said Tan.
Tan said there had been a “huge reduction in older people coming forward to seek healthcare” over the past year because of the pandemic and the restrictions on movement. Family members understood that their elderly relatives were at higher risk of being infected, and were more reluctant to take them for check-ups.
“We are worried that we might have gone backwards by 10 years in terms of awareness and better treatment,” she said, adding that the data on the pandemic’s long-term impacts on the elderly across the globe was lacking.
On the bright side, Tan said, there have been instances where members of the community or village heads have stepped up to bring food and medicine to senior citizens living away from their children.
She added that restrictions in physical interaction have helped expedite a system for virtual consultations with older patients. However, it has to be in compliance with the Telemedicine Act 1997, which still requires written consent for a video call.
Gan Pooi Chan, who manages Homage Malaysia, an on-demand caregiving service for the elderly, said many seniors have faced mental and physical health problems in the past year.
“They are anxious about their health, being part of the high-risk group, and with access to healthcare now limited and risky. Many also grapple with loneliness from solitude due to travel and visiting restrictions,” she said.
Caregivers have also been psychologically affected by the pandemic, from the economic uncertainty and the rising unemployment rate. Some now have the added responsibility of looking after their older relatives full-time, as senior daycare centres were forced to close.
With the lack of job opportunities, many fresh graduates and unemployed nurses have turned towards caregiving which has actually benefited a lot of families, said Gan.
“We have indeed seen demand for geriatric care grow dramatically since early March last year, so I would say more people are becoming aware of the benefits that on-demand geriatric care can provide,” she told FMT.
Gan said it was important for people to recognise that care and medical treatment should no longer be confined to hospitals and clinics, as it was safer for seniors to be treated at home.
She added that the government should provide more subsidies or facilities to assist the elderly, as well as adults in the B40 income group who had to juggle their finances between their parents and children.
“Allocation of resources should be made available early so everyone, including their children, will be better prepared in terms of their medical care as they grow older.”