Wednesday, October 30, 2013

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO MY FAVORITE OCTOGENARIANS

October has turned out to be a month to celebrate senior citizens. Just last week we had the U3A carnival (19 Oct) held in UPM and the National Day of Older Persons held in Kuantan (22 Oct). I have written about these events in my previous post.

October is also the month of birthdays in my family. My grand-daughter Hana celebrated her 9th birthday on 13 Oct. My mother turned 87 on 10 October, my brother Henry's 64th birthday fell on 14 Oct, and my Uncle Xavier marked his 80th birthday on 22 Oct. He celebrated the auspicious occasion with his family, friends, former colleagues and golf buddies with a grand dinner on 20 Oct at the exclusive Read Masonic Centre.

My mom on her 86th birthday last year, with my younger daughter Belle.
Photo taken at the Dementia Homecare Centre in Teluk Panglima Garang.

Before the month comes to a close, I would like to pay tribute to my mom and my uncle.

My mom circa 1940s
My mother Annie Goh Kwee Foung, 87

In her own way, my mom is an amazing woman. Widowed when she was only 30, she never remarried, although her exquisite oriental beauty attracted many suitors and secret admirers. In the 1950s, young widows were expected to honor the memory of their deceased husband by remaining faithful. My mom probably also didn't want to incur the wrath of my paternal grandmother, the matriarch of the family. Everyone was in awe and fear of my grandmother.

My mom's beauty salon in Batu Pahat
I never really knew my dad. He died young, leaving my mom with six children to raise. I was the eldest at 8, with my siblings aged 7, 6, 4, 2 and the youngest soon to be born. My mom was pregnant when my dad passed away after a short illness. Under such circumstances, and with little financial support, my mom went through a period of depression. She had to be sent away for treatment.

At the time, my mom was proprietress of a beauty salon in Batu Pahat. My dad had helped set it up for her in 1947. It was the income from this modest little business that fed the whole family.

Mom and her six children. Photo taken in 1961.
My uncles and aunties also chipped in to help. Some helped with financial assistance, others volunteered to take in my younger brothers and sisters. That is why when it comes to dialects and languages, Henry speaks Hokkien fluently, Shirley is more comfortable with Mandarin, Raymond and Felicia with Cantonese, and I speak English as my first language. My sister Molly and I were the only two siblings who remained with Mom till we left Batu Pahat after completing our Form 5.

Me, my brother Henry and my sister Shirley
on mom's 87th birthday on 10 Oct 2013
The years have passed quickly. My mom is now 87 years old. Diagnosed with dementia in 2011, she has since moved to a residential home that caters specially to people with dementia. I have written about this home in Teluk Panglima Garang in previous blog posts. She is happy there with her new friends and trained staff to see to her needs. I visit her as often as I can. I know one day as her dementia progresses and her memory fades, she may no longer recognize me as her daughter.

I salute my mother and all mothers who toiled through sweat and tears to raise their children, provide them with a good education, and instil in them the right values.

My Uncle Xavier Goh Khen Wah, 80

My uncle Xavier is my mom's younger brother. After completing high school at St Paul's Institution in Seremban, he left on a government scholarship to study electrical engineering in Australia. Upon his return, he worked as an engineer in the Telecommunications Department of Malaya and remained there till his retirement in 1986. He has been always close to my mom. His financial and moral support helped her through the difficult years.

My uncle was posted to various parts of West Malaya in his early years with Telecoms Malaya. This may explain why he can't stay put for long in one place. I remember during school holidays, he would take my siblings and my cousins on trips to the towns where he was posted. I can still recall one trip in particular to Sungai Petani in Kedah. That was in November 1963. It was the most enjoyable school holiday I had in my growing up years.

Visiting North Korea
At his recent 80th birthday dinner, Uncle Xavier shared a slide presentation of his travels. He has been bitten by the travel bug ever since his early days as a student in Australia. Despite his advancing age, Uncle Xavier is always eager to be off to another destination every chance he gets, most of the time back-packing to exotic places off the beaten track.

He has been to more than 55 countries to date - from the ancient ruins of Machu Picchu in Peru to the old monasteries in Bhutan and Tibet, from Jerusalem in Israel to Pyongyang in North Korea, my uncle has probably seen all the wonders of the world. Uncle Xavier has had a triple bypass, but this has not diminished his wanderlust. He continues to enjoy life as an intrepid world traveller and avid photographer.

With young novice monks in Bhutan
At the wailing wall in Jerusalem
Uncle Xavier with Aunt Sylvia at his recent 80th birthday celebration on 20 Oct 2013

To my mom and Uncle Xavier, a big toast to both of you on your birthday. May there be many more happy returns of the day.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

CELEBRATING OLDER PERSONS DAY IN OCTOBER

Regular visitors to Seniorsaloud blog would have noticed that I have been griping about public apathy to the International Day of Older Persons in my last few blog posts. Well, I have no reason to continue with my laments now, thanks to two events that took place over the past four days.

First was the U3A Carnival on 19 Oct. It was jointly organized by the Institute of Gerontology, Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and University of the Third Age (U3A) of Kuala Lumpur and Selangor with the theme "Celebrating Our Golden Years". Held for the first time at the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, UPM, it was an event highly anticipated by U3A members.

Open to the public, more than 90% of the 350 tickets were sold before the event. At only RM5 each, it was incredibly affordable, especially when it included complimentary breakfast and lunch, as well as a chance to win attractive prizes in the lucky draw. The grand prize was a 3D2N free stay at a 4-star hotel in Cameron Highlands for four persons.

The carnival programme featured talks, activities and stalls selling a variety of items including clothes, handmade soap, books and handicrafts made by U3A members. There was also an exhibition of art pieces and photos by members.

Carnival highlights in pictures:

U3A gamelan group entertaining the audience before the start of the opening ceremony.
Prof Dr Tengku Aizan Hamid, Director of the Institute of Gerontology at UPM, delivering the keynote address. She spoke on "Mobilizing the Potential of Older Persons". 
Mr Ted Adnan, U3A instructor for digital photography dispensing photography tips at the carnival. On the display panels are photos taken by U3A members, and also their art work.
Posters highlighting U3A activities from 2007 to 2012. Many people were impressed by the large number of short courses offered by U3A, and by the low course fees. Only RM80 per semester for any three courses.
Food, drinks and clothes on sale at the stalls. U3A members could book these stalls for free to sell their products. 
This stall sells handicrafts made by U3A members.
Mrs Jagjeet Singh demonstrating Nordic Walking. Many in the audience had never heard of Nordic Walking till they attended the carnival. (Photo: Mrs Jagjeet)
Line dance instructor Mrs Jan Ghani and her team of ladies from the Happy Senior Citizens Club demonstrating the Electric Slide at the carnival.
Free health screening at the carnival. The gentleman here is taking the balance-gait test.

Based on feedback, everyone had a good time. Who knows, we might have the carnival on a biennial basis. But for now, as the organizing chair of the carnival, all I want is a good long rest!

Official launch of the celebration of the National Day of Older Persons.

The second event came out of the blue with an invitation to U3A to participate in an exhibition held in conjunction with the celebration of the National Day of Older Persons in Kuantan on 22 Oct. It was to be a double celebration as 24 Oct is the 83rd birthday of the Sultan of Pahang, Sultan Ahmad Shah.

With just one day to rest after the carnival, I was off to Kuantan on 21 Oct with a small group of U3A committee members. Our van was packed to the brim with the exhibits from the carnival.

IG-U3A booth at the exhibition showcasing members' art and craft and also posters depicting U3A activities and courses.
Minister of Women, Family and Community Development, Datuk Rohani Abdul Karim (in purple), dropping by at the U3A booth. Dato Ghani, our U3A president, is on the right.
U3A members from Kuala Lumpur who attended the function in Kuantan.
According to news reports, 2,500 'golden citizens' were invited to celebrate the National Day of Older Persons. They had the honour of having high tea with the Sultan of Pahang in the Grand Ballroom. The Sultan will be celebrating his 83rd birthday on 24 Oct.

Sultan Ahmad Shah presents a gift to
Helen who shares the same birthday
as the Sultan. (Photo: Berita Harian)
On 22 Oct, a busload of U3A members made the 4-hour trip from Kuala Lumpur to Kuantan. It was a fun outing for them. They visited the exhibition and joined hundreds of other warga emas (golden citizens) for high tea with the Sultan in the grand ballroom. Sultan Ahmad Shah presented awards to six deserving senior citizens for their outstanding achievements in education, culture and entertainment.

Today 23 Oct is the day after, and I am back in KL. My feet are still aching from the hours of standing. But I am not complaining. Two special events for senior citizens within the same week. Can't ask for more. Will October 2014 see similar celebrations? Let's wait and see...

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

WHY NOT A NATIONAL SENIOR CITIZENS DAY AND A PARENTS DAY?


A website set up to "celebrate the achievements and contributions that older people make to our society and tackle negative attitudes and outdated stereotypes." Check it out here.

Senior Citizens Day is celebrated in the US on 21 August. In China the day falls on the ninth day of the ninth lunar month which happens to be 13 Oct this year. There is also International Day of Older Persons which is observed on 1 October. Canada, Britain, Australia are among the many countries that celebrate this day with special programs that include seminars, workshops, awards, carnivals, exhibitions, entertainment, luncheons, city tours and other fun activities. It is also a day when governments will announce special perks for this demographic.

In India, the government marks Senior Citizens Day with state-level programs to honor the elderly. The country has about 100 million senior citizens aged 60 and above.

We are half way through October. So far, the government and the media here in Malaysia have marked World Habitat Day on 7 Oct, World Post Day on 9 Oct, World Mental Health Day on 10 Oct and World Arthritis Day on 12 Oct. Coming up is World Osteoporosis on 20 Oct. I am sure the papers will carry articles and events planned for that day. Still nothing about celebrating World Senior Citizens Day or International Day of Older Persons. Are we not important enough? Do we not matter?

That is why I am delighted to announce that the University of the Third Age (U3A), Malaysia together with the Institute of Gerontology, UPM are jointly organizing a mini-carnival this Saturday 19 October with the theme "Celebrating Our Golden Years". 

For program details, go to Seniorsaloudevents or U3A blog

Whether we call it International Day of Older Persons, World Senior Citizens Day or Older People's Day, there should be a day when we honour our elderly citizens.

You can read the article online here

This news item above in yesterday's The Star (14 Oct) caught my attention. The government should declare 1 October as National Senior Citizens Day. It need not be a public holiday, as long as special events are held on that day to show appreciation of our senior citizens' contributions to society, and to celebrate the day with them.

It also makes sense to have a Parents Day in lieu of a Mother's Day or Father's Day. Adult children can celebrate with both parents on the same day. It's double the joy but at half the cost to adult children hosting lunch or dinner.

Over to you, Ministry of Women, Family and Community Development. Do we senior citizens deserve a day to call our own?


Saturday, October 12, 2013

THE SAD TRUTH ABOUT GROWING OLD IN MALAYSIA

The Heat, Issue 6 (12-18 Oct) on sale now
On 25 September, The Heat, Malaysia's latest weekly news magazine, interviewed  me for my views on nursing homes in the country. The 2-page article appears in Issue 6 (Oct 12-18). Unfortunately online access to the article is for subscribers only. If you are interested to check out The Heat as well as the article, you can pick up a copy at any newsplus outlet and at major bookstores. I bought mine at KLCC and was given a RM5.90 voucher for a drink at Chatime. That's value for money!

I hope the article will help draw attention to the plight of the urban elderly, especially those in their 70s and 80s who require assistance with activities of daily living (ADL). Not only is there an acute shortage of decent and affordable nursing homes and retirement homes, but also daycare centres where trained caregivers can keep an eye on the old folks while their adult children are at work.

For adult children, it is a huge risk to leave an elderly parent alone at home. What if Dad falls and hurts himself? What if he has a heart attack, or a stroke? What if Mom who has Alzheimer's wanders out and can't remember how to go home?

The sad truth about growing old in Malaysia
By Raphael Wong
Thursday, 10 Oct 2013, 07:15 PM

Where do you go when you grow old? In Malaysia, there are not many choices, especially for those from middle-class families.

The rich and affluent can afford the top of the line nursing or retirement homes, some of which costs upwards of RM8,000 a month. The poor can look to the government for assistance, mostly through the Welfare Department and get a place in an old folk’s home.

But those in the middle class will be left to fend for themselves. They cannot afford the high-end nursing or retirement homes, and neither do they qualify for government assistance – a problem that will persist and have a major social impact as the Malaysian population begins to age rapidly.

According to the Statistics Department, there were 1.4 million Malaysians aged 65 years and above, or about 5% of the total population in 2010. This number is set to soar to an estimated 2.2 million by 2020, accounting for 6.8% of the population.

Given that the middle class make up 40% of the population, there will be a huge portion of the population who will end up growing old either with not enough money to have a decent retirement or not poor enough to be entitled to state care.

How then do these people cope? There is the old Asian tradition of living off your offspring but even that is wearing thin. The other is to find an affordable retirement home, but there is no guarantee that they will offer the right kind of care and services.

Do our nursing homes provide adequate care? Find out on page 10 + 12 of The Heat.


Tuesday, October 8, 2013

WHEN ADULT CHILDREN ABUSE AND EXPLOIT THEIR PARENTS


Headlines like the one above makes one wonder how children are brought up these days. Are they taught the right values at home and in school? Are their parents leading by good example?

In many countries parent or elder abuse is on the rise. In Singapore, the number of reported cases of abusive adult children has gone up from 160 to 240 a year over the past three years. One can assume hundreds more cases go unreported.

There is the Maintenance of Parents Act (1995) and a Tribunal that hears such cases. However, many parents are reluctant to report the abuse for the following reasons:

  • they don't want to see their children sent to jail
  • they don't want the social stigma attached to it
  • they are unaware of their rights and that they can get help
  • they don't know where to get help
  • they depend on their children for financial support and shelter
  • it reflects badly on their own parenting.

So these abused parents, mostly in their 70s and 80s, continue to suffer in silence. This is certainly not the way they should be living their remaining years. As long as they don't report the abuse, nothing can be done to help them.


These abuses can be verbal, physical, financial or psychological, and may include any of the following:
  • scolded or beaten for being slow, forgetful, or for making mistakes
  • harassed for money to pay their children's loans or debts
  • chased out of the family home because there is no room for them
  • ignored, neglected, even shamed in front of others
  • constantly told they are 'useless' and 'should die quickly'
  • subjected to numerous restrictions that limit their freedom

The key lies in building a strong bond between parents and children, and nurturing this bond through the years. Children who are neglected or abused, are more likely to grow into adults who are abusive towards their parents. 

Certainly there are other factors that come into play. Adult children who are struggling with their own problems may vent their frustrations on their parents. These problems range from heavy debts to drug addiction. But this is no excuse for them to take it out on their elderly parents.

There are also highly educated, successful adult children who are ashamed of their illiterate parents. They have no qualms or guilt about confining their parents to a room at the back of the house with strict orders not to come out when there are visitors or guests in the house. 


To quote a media statement issued by Karpal Singh of the Democratic Action Party (DAP) dated 12/3/07, "... it is the duty of adult children to maintain their parents in old age for the simple reason their parents provided for them up to adulthood. The Government should give first priority to the enactment of the Maintenance of Parents Act as soon as possible."

Mr Lum Kin Tuck, former president of the National Council of Senior Citizens’ Organisations Malaysia (NACSCOM) has also called on the government to set in place a systematic safety net for the elderly

Cases of abandoned parents are also on the rise. The 2010 census conducted by Malaysia’s Department of Statistics shows that 675,000 citizens aged 60 and above have been abandoned and do not receive financial support from their children. This means that one in three senior citizens have been deserted by their children.

A sight that is becoming common in many Asian
countries where filial piety was once regarded as
the most important of all virtues. Read more...
It is only in the last couple of years that the government has made some effort to address the plight of abused and abandoned parents. It is not enough, and more importantly, not sustained. The only recourse left to abused parents is to seek help from relatives and friends, and NGOs that are sympathetic to their case.

Here are some things parents can do to reduce the risks of ending up abused or abandoned by their adult children:

  • continue to build your nest egg and make sure you are not financially dependent on your children when you reach old age
  • look after your health so that you remain physically active and independent as long as you can, right into your 70s and 80s.
  • protect your property. Do not hand over the deeds of your house prematurely. You need to ensure a roof over your head at all times.
  • have a network of friends you can count on to support you through the difficult times
  • seek professional help or counselling especially if you feel suicidal
  • know you are not alone in this. Join a support group. 
Click here to know more about elder abuse.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

INTERNATIONAL DAY OF OLDER PERSONS - JUST ANOTHER DAY ON THE CALENDAR


Happy Older Persons Day - if you are celebrating. In December 1990 the United Nations General Assembly designated October 1 as International Day of Older Persons. This year 2013 the theme is: "The future we want: what older persons are saying."

So what do older people want? Find out here.

As in past years, this day will probably pass quietly in Malaysia with few people aware of its significance. We celebrate Valentine's Day, Father's Day, Mother's Day, even Teacher's Day with gifts and special dinners, but Older Persons' Day? Never heard of it. Even if we have, who cares?

Sad, isn't it, this apathy towards older people.

Senior citizens in Singapore enjoying a day outing.

Today is supposed to be a day for us to acknowledge the contributions of older people. In countries such as Britain, Australia and Russia, the day is celebrated with a host of fun activities for senior citizens. It's their day and they take centre stage. It is also a day to raise awareness of the issues that affect older people in our society.

Source: Canadian Foundation for 
Healthcare  Improvement
Let me highlight a few of the challenges older people face. They are discriminated against when seeking re-employment. They have limited financial resources to cope with rising inflation and escalating health care costs. They live in cities that lack adequate elder-friendly facilities. The list goes on.

The government and policy-makers in our country, for example, do not give equal priority to the problems that confront older people.

Society as a whole view this demographic as 'unproductive', and therefore not worthy of investing money in. Philanthropists and companies doing CSR prefer to fund organizations looking after the welfare of children and animals. Old people are considered a 'lost' cause, with no ROI value. It explains why  the majority of senior citizens clubs and NGOs have difficulty raising money to fund their programs.

From public transport to housing, from healthcare to financial support, older people struggle to cope with living in a society that pays little attention to their needs.

In the words of UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon,
"By 2050, the number of older persons will be twice the number of children in developed countries, and the number of older persons in developing countries is expected to double. This trend will have profound effects on countries and individuals."


Source: Independent Living Ireland

Our numbers are growing rapidly. Just pause for a moment and think of the ramifications an ageing population will have on society, and the economy. How prepared is the government for this eventuality?

I have posted this video a couple of times over the past two years. It deserves to be shared here yet again, and again till the message sinks in, till the urgency of the situation is felt by one and all. Ageing affects everyone of us. We all get there one day.



Robots that help the elderly with their chores
will soon be a common sight in Japan.
Japan and Singapore are already experiencing some of the effects. The Singapore government has spent millions on promoting active ageing and raising the fertility rate. Japan is coming up with innovative technology to help the elderly cope with activities of daily living.

Before we know it, the year 2021 will be upon us here in Malaysia. According to our National Statistics Department, that is when Malaysia will join the ranks of ageing countries. By then senior citizens (65 years and above) will make up 11.4% of the population, or 4.4 million people. That is three million more than in 2010! At this accelerated pace, and if the fertility rate doesn't go up in tandem, we will face the harsh reality of a shrinking working population having to support an ever growing older population.

Conferences and seminars on population ageing issues are held in Malaysia from time to time. But as long as proposals are put forward but not implemented, these events bring little long term benefits for the older population.
Check out the link to see what topics (and issues) will be covered. Registration is still open.

My apologies, folks, for painting such a gloomy picture, especially on this Day of Older Persons. The future doesn't have to be this bleak for us, if we can help it, if the government can help it.

Let's close on a more positive note with this video from HelpAge.