Tuesday, October 18, 2016


Negative stereotyping of older adults often leads to discrimination against them. 
If you are 60 and above, you are likely to have encountered instances of ageism at one time or another. Not only are older people discriminated against by banks and other financial institutions, but also at the work-place and in the job market. Indeed, older people face age discrimination on a daily basis. Bus drivers yell at them, shop assistants ignore them, medical professionals don't take their pains and aches seriously, EPF stops giving you interest on your retirement funds when you reach 75, ...the list goes on. Even at home, elderly parents find that no one listens to them. Their advice is often not sought for family decisions. They are head of the family only in name.

All this is based on negative perceptions and stereotyping of older people as frail, senile and unproductive, and a drain on the nation's welfare resources.

The New 80s - still active and certainly still able to contribute to society. What more those in their 60s and 70s?! Don't write off older adults as useless and past their productive shelf life.

And this is despite the fact that people are now living longer and healthier, thanks to advances made in medicine, science and technology. 60 is the new 40, and 80 is the new 60. They may have reached retirement age, but are still capable of contributing to society if given the opportunity to work or serve.

POWER and MONEY speak louder than age. Older people in positions of influence and authority, and have vast financial resources at their disposal can still command respect everywhere they go. These are the blessed ones. They can take care of themselves in their old age. It's the rest of the ageing populace that we should make a stand for. They are the voiceless ones, the silent majority who feel disadvantaged and powerless to fight against ageism.

But change is inevitable. The number of older persons is growing and this silver wave can't be stopped. (I am loath to use the word 'tsunami' as it gives a negative connotation to the rise in the elderly population.)

By 2035, the number of people aged 60 and above will have accounted for 15% of the total population in Malaysia. The country is heading towards ageing country status. The government is aware of what needs to be done to meet the demands and challenges of an ageing population, but implementation is painfully slow. The private sector has yet to fully acknowledge the impact this shift in demographics will have on the work force and on the economy.

The time will come when all of us will have to wake up to the reality that global ageing is here to stay. It is in the interest of everyone, especially the younger generation, to ensure that discriminatory practices against older people be removed. Any policies that uphold the rights of older people will ultimately benefit the young of today as they too will grow old one day. To take this one step further, when a country takes good care of its elderly population, everyone benefits.

The government wants to encourage active, independent and healthy ageing. So do all older people. For this to be successful, any form of discrimination against older people must be removed, and every bit of help be given to enable them to continue working and supporting themselves for as long as possible.

So kudos to the United Nations for taking a stand against ageism and making it the theme for International Day of Older Persons 2016.

For more voices against ageism, go to HelpAge International

Friday, September 9, 2016


I find it quite grating that our local journalists and reporters often use the terms 'old' and 'elderly' to refer to people who are still vey much alive and kicking, and far from approaching the end-of-life phase. I suppose to these young media folks, anyone aged above 40 is definitely old and elderly.

The above newspaper clippings remind me of one of the earliest letters I sent to The Star in October 2012 on the topic of new labels for 'old' people. The Star had changed the original title to "The World At Our Feet". Frankly, I don't think it's appropriate. The online version has a different title "When Does Old Age Begin?" You can read the original version below.

When I started my community blog in May 2008, I had come up with several tentative names for the blog. Unfortunately all of them were rejected when I signed up for an account with Blogger. Every single one of the names I keyed in had already been taken. I must have tried at least 20 names. 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 available!

Both my daughters didn't like the name at all. They felt that with a name like Seniorsaloud, the blog would attract 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 and decrepit.

The new 'old' - Prof Emeritus, Dr Khairuddin Yusof, 76, 
enjoys extreme sports. He spoke at our Seniorsaloud 
event on "Retire Healthy" in July 2012.
Let me ask my readers, does the word 'senior' have a negative connotation? What sort of image comes 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 of grey. Author E.L.James will give you 50! If the 50+ and 60+ are not quite ready to be called old, how would you address them? The 'young old'? That doesn't work either. And are the 70+ the 'old old'? What other terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post war generations? Equally cumbersome and inadequate.

Dr Yusof's book on active ageing
Quite often the media is guilty of mislabelling. "Elderly man falls victim to snatch thief", says one headline. You read the news report and find that the victim is only 60! I turned 68 in June this year. I can deal with being called a senior citizen as that is what I am. But 'elderly'? Not by a mile. The problem is, young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To people in their 20s, 64 is practically ancient, if not pre-historic!

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'. 

If numbers don't matter, and chronological age is not an accurate indicator of physiological age, what are we left with? How would you like to be referred to? 'Older people' seems to be the least disparaging and most neutral. With people now living much longer, there is a need to come up with new labels for the old (pun intended) that do not smack of ageism, and that is acceptable to all.

Photo taken in 2014 when my mom was 88, and I was 66. A generation apart but young reporters would lump us together as 'the elderly'.

If the 60s is the new 40s, you can understand why labels like 'old', 'elderly', 'frail' no longer describe the active, independent and fun-loving baby boomers of today. By the time we reach our 70s, 80s and 90s, we will be re-defining the face of ageing.

There is a world of difference between growing old and growing older. And it's a lot to do with how we look at ageing - positively or negatively, with anticipation or dread. To take it one step further, by changing how we view ourselves, we can change how society look at us.

Adnan Osman, 70, cycled all the way to London for the 2012 Olympics. Inspiring role models like him show us that growing older doesn't have to mean the end of fun and adventure. The world is still there for us to explore. There are new things to learn, and new friends to make. Indeed, growing older can be an exciting new chapter of life.

Postscript: I have always wanted to have a column in the newspaper to write about topics and issues of interest and relevance to senior citizens. If that ever happened, it would be a dream come true for me. Maybe I would call it 'Silver Threads'. It would also be a channel to share information and personal insights on matters that involve this demographic. Our numbers are growing. Other than writing letters to the newspapers, we don't have an avenue to voice our concerns about a host of issues that affect us, including healthcare, cost of living, public transport, affordable housing, re-employment, age-friendly public facilities, retirement planning and end-of-life issues.

It's about time to speak out and be heard. And that's why I have a new tag line for SeniorsAloud's FB profile picture: 'A Voice for Seniors'.