Thursday, January 11, 2018

THE DOWNSIDE OF GROWING OLD...BUT WHY DWELL ON IT?


Old people love to complain. They are never satisfied with anything. True or false? The answer is probably True. But they do have valid reasons for their grouses.

Let's put ourselves in the shoes of an 80+ old man. He has limited funds so he complains about soaring prices and GST. He recalls the old days when a cup of kopitiam coffee cost only 40 cents. Now it's RM1.80 at the mamak stall. The reason why you don't see many old people at Starbucks - it pains them to spend RM10 on a cup of coffee!

There was a time when he could travel and enjoy an active social life. These days he is mostly at home, unable to venture out alone because he no longer drives and there's no one free to take him out. His perennially-busy adult children have little time for him.

Once upon a time he lived to eat. Now he eats to live. His diet is restricted to low fat, less sugar and salt-free foods. How bland! No more spicy, oily deep-fried hawker food for him, no more culinary indulgences, all because he has a host of health problems.

His old hobbies no longer interest him. He doesn't read much because of poor vision. He has little interest in watching tv as the programs don't appeal to him. He misses the songs and movies of the 50s and 60s. He can't enjoy the videos on YouTube or listen to TEDtalks as he is computer-illiterate, and refuses to learn.

As a young man, he was blessed with good health and vitality. Now the passage of time has reduced him to a frail shadow of his former self, with all the accompanying aches and pain of old age. He wakes up in the morning, and wonders how to pass the long hours ahead.


Few friends drop by to see him, as they are in the same boat as he is, or have passed away. So he sits in his arm-chair or lies in bed the whole day long with only his memories to keep him company.

It is no wonder old people are bitter and grouchy. They have all the time in the world to gripe about everything under the sun, from high prices to corrupt politicians, and 1001 things in between. Such unpleasant company to be in.

What a horrible way to grow old!

It is the same with old women too. They still complain but much less than their husband. The big difference is they have more to keep them busy like helping with the grandchildren, doing community work or taking up some short courses. Maybe that's why they live longer. (Men, take note. Find something to keep you happily occupied.)

We can't stop growing old, but we can certainly choose how we want to grow old. It's all about attitude.


We can choose to grow old complaining about things from A to Z. Or we can choose to focus our attention on the things that make us happy, like our grandchildren, like being able to look back at happy times with fondness, and not compare them with the present just to complain. 'The past is a place of reference, The past is not a place of residence.' Move on. The present is where we are - make the most of it.

There is little point in harping on things that can't be changed. We should learn to accept whatever unfortunate circumstances we are dealt with and make the best of the situation. We can make our lives worth living.


The above is an updated version of an earlier article I wrote in 2012. I am reposting it in response to Betty White's quote in the Straits Times today (11 Jan 2018). She turns 95 this year. It is a timely reminder to look at life on the bright side. Negative feelings and thoughts can fester and lower our immune system against diseases. It drains us of our energy to keep dwelling on our pains and aches, fears and regrets. Besides, no one wants to be in the company of grouchy old people, not even their grandchildren, right?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

HOW SHOULD WE REFER TO OLDER ADULTS?

Would older adults accept being addressed as 'perennials'? 

When I started this blog in May 2008, I had several names in mind for the blog. Unfortunately all of them were already taken. I must have tried at least 20 names in total, with the same result each time - 'not available'. In frustration I gave it one final go with 'SeniorsAloud'. The name had popped into my mind at that last minute. To my surprise, it was accepted.

Both my daughters didn't like the name at all. They probably felt that with a name like SeniorsAloud, the blog would interest only old people. Of course, I went on the defensive. What did they mean by 'old'? I was about to turn 60 at the time, and didn't feel at all a day over 40. Neither was I frail, and definitely nowhere close to being senile.

Let me ask my readers, does the word 'senior' have a negative connotation? What sort of image springs to mind at the mention of 'senior citizen'? I have good friends who would cringe with horror at being referred to as one, even though they are 60+ and retired. To them, that's as good as sounding the death knell!

The problem with labels is they are generic. 'Old' people are painted with the same brush, and in the same grey colour. But there are so many different shades and hues of grey. If the 50+ and 60+ are not quite ready to be called old, how then would you address them? The 'young old'? That doesn't work either. And are the 70+ the 'old old'? These are terms used by researchers in social sciences and gerontology. What other terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post war generations? Baby Boomers? Equally cumbersome and inadequate. (Photo: My cousins - no way would anyone in their right mind call them 'elderly'! Henry is about the coolest dad I know, and Siew Kin is one fabulously gorgeous mom, inside out. Both are in their early 60s at the time of writing.)

People are living longer so new age categories are needed. I am now considered 'middle-aged'.
Quite often the media is guilty of mislabeling. "Elderly man victim of snatch thief", says one headline. You read the news report and find that the victim was aged 63. I am turning 70 soon. I can deal with being called a senior citizen as that is what I am. But 'elderly'? Not by a mile. But young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To someone in their 20s, 63 is practically ancient.

So until we come up with age appropriate labels, I suppose baby boomers like us will have to forgive the young for addressing us as 'old' and 'elderly'.

I'm glad I stuck with the name "Seniorsaloud" for this blog. It has garnered a readership that is steadily growing. It has caught the attention of certain policy-makers on ageing issues in Singapore and Malaysia. It has been mentioned in the local media on several occasions. Some of the articles have been published in reputable magazines. Some years back, I received an email from a program producer at CNN asking for my views on a seniors-related topic. That was a real morale booster!

My SeniorsAloud card which I refer to as my 'passion card', rather than my business or name card.

All those hours of writing and researching are finally paying off in terms of recognition. Now we are hoping some big corporations would step in and sponsor a Seniorsaloud event. That would be taking Seniorsaloud to the next level where it can harness the expertise and experience of retirees for projects that would benefit the community of senior citizens. Seniorsaloud has no shortage of ideas to achieve this objective, and we welcome collaborations with organisations and companies to promote active, healthy living for seniors.

Here's what Prof Laura Carstensen of Stanford University's Centre on Longevity says about the term 'perennials' for older people.


Click HERE to read the full article (Straits Times 2 Jan, 2018)

"Perennials make clear that we are still here, blossoming again and again. It also suggests a new model of life in which people engage and take breaks, making new starts repeatedly. Perennials aren't guaranteed to blossom year after year, but given proper conditions, good soil and nutrients, they can go on for decades."

I personally like 'perennials'.  It has a youthful, forever-spring feel to it. But I am not too sure if the word will gain wide acceptance. What do readers think?

(Postscript: The above is an updated version of an article first posted in April 2011. An edited version was subsequently published in the Star.)