Thursday, September 14, 2023


It's never too late to learn a new skill. -

If there is one word that should be banned from a senior citizen’s vocabulary, it is the word ‘Old’. How can we expect society to have a positive perception of older people when we think of ourselves as ‘old’ – as in ‘‘I’m too old to...”

Words have power. Never ever think we are too old to learn. Our brain cells do not atrophy with age. In fact, they regenerate. Our brain cells get stimulated with new learning. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity enable us to continue absorbing new knowledge, new skills and new experiences.

These two processes continue throughout our life span. When we think we have lived long enough, seen enough, and there’s nothing more to learn, it is easy to slip into boredom. Life becomes a long stretch of humdrum.

Nothing new, nothing exciting to enjoy or look forward to. On the contrary, the best time to learn new things, to pursue our dreams is in our retirement years. No more nine to five, no more parenting responsibilities. We now have time and savings to learn what we want, with no pressure to sit for exams. Welcome to learning for leisure.

Learning for Leisure

Want to pick up a new skill such as cooking, painting or home repairs D.I.Y? How about learning a new language, a musical instrument or a new dance? Looking for something related to wellness? There’s yoga, tai chi and qigong.

Technology is more your cup of tea? Well, there’s smartphone usage, cloud computing and drone basics, all taught under Digital Technologies. Thinking of setting up a home-based business or a start-up? Enroll for a course on entrepreneurship.

Seniors at a U3A Design Thinking class - designing the ideal wallet 

All the above, and more, are courses offered at University of the Third Age (U3A) at MyAgeing, Universiti Putra Malaysia. When I first read about their Open Day in The Star in 2011, I was so excited. Right away, I registered for several courses. Now 12 years later, I am still taking up courses at U3A. The only difference is most of the courses have gone online via Zoom due to the Covid pandemic. This enables more seniors from outside the Klang Valley to take up courses.

There are more than 40 courses to choose from ranging from art and music to languages and digital skills. Most of the courses run for six weeks with course fees at an affordable RM80 per course.

Aside from U3A, there are 132 Pusat Aktiviti Warga Emas (PAWE) activity centres throughout the country. There are plans to have at least one PAWE in every constituency to promote active learning among the older population. Courses are offered free to enable seniors especially from the B40 group to expand their knowledge and learn new skills that could help them generate some income.

Academic Courses

Seniors who did not have the opportunity to further their studies after high school can now fulfill their dream of obtaining university qualifications.

Doing my MSc in Applied Gerontology
in 2018 at age 70
Compared to the limited number of courses in the 1960s-80s, our universities now offer literally hundreds of degree courses. As Malaysia heads towards ageing nation status, we can expect a surge in university applications from older adults. Yet, our university brochures invariably feature young undergrads fresh out of high school or college. This smacks of ageism, doesn’t it?

Grants, scholarships and loans have an upper age ceiling that shutout applications from older adults. Education has always been seen as a way out of poverty. This applies to young people as well as to older people. But with ageism, opportunities to improve the socio-economic status of retirees and pensioners via higher education remain limited.

Online Resources for Learning

One alternative is to go online for learning resources. With thousands of courses available online, many for free, adult learners are spoilt for choice. All that is required is the determination to complete the courses. Mind you, these courses are offered by some of the world’s top universities like Yale University, University of California, Los Angeles, National University of Singapore and Peking University.

My first Coursera certificate
 from Johns Hopkins, 2013
For those who are interested in online academic courses, you might want to check out Coursera. I signed up for my first online course “Care of Elders with Alzheimer’s Disease” in 2013 through Coursera. My certificate was issued by Johns Hopkins Hospital.

I have done a dozen free online courses since then.

The internet opens up a world of e-learning. It is our go-to virtual library. Knowledge is practically at our fingertips, and just a click away. It’s that simple to enrich our mind.

Unfortunately, there are still many among the older generation who think they are beyond learning anything new.

We seniors have to make the effort to learn digital tools. It is not as daunting as we think. YouTube is an excellent source of learning skills for those whose learning preference is visual rather than textual. You can learn practically anything under the sun, all with just a laptop and a stable internet connection.

There is really no excuse at all for not making the effort to learn because of our age.

Benefits of Lifelong Learning

Use it, or lose it: That applies to our brains as well. If we continue to use our brain, we are exercising it, stimulating it to think, to analyse, to reason, to stay mentally sharp. Learning new things throughout our lifetime can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Our memory improves when we challenge it with learning new skills. Learning something new also boosts self-esteem. When we learn a new skill, we feel a sense of achievement and pride. When we add a new qualification to our name, we earn respect from others. More doors are open to us for employment.

Learning a new skill - at the 24-drums class with other seniors, enjoying the fun and camaraderie of group learning

For me personally, I enjoy the supportive social environment that comes with learning together with others. We form new friendships that are essential for our health and well-being. This is especially important for seniors who live alone or are dealing with stressful events. Going for hikes with friends can turn into a lesson on discovering wild flowers and rare mushrooms.

Visiting a museum or an exhibition can expand our knowledge. Attending a workshop on ChatGPT can help keep us abreast of the latest in digital tools. Everything and anything can be turned into a learning experience if we see it as such. There really is no excuse not to make use of the resources and opportunities available to us to remain mentally sharp as we age. Not doing so may earn us the label that is so often applied to older people – senile or nyanyok.

(This article was first published on 30 August 2023 in The Star under 'Grey Matters', a monthly column that focuses on issues and topics of interest and relevance to older persons. Some of my pictures have been added in this blog version to illustrate that age is no barrier to learning.)

Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.

Monday, August 7, 2023


But being together 24/7 could also result in daily acrimonious exchanges, with the couple getting on each other’s nerves. (Photo: Josh Felise/Unsplash)

‘To love and to hold, till death do us part’. 

Those were the days when marriage was a sacred institution. Marriages then were meant to last a lifetime.

Even when death took away one partner, the other would remain faithful till the end. Couples stayed together because they took their marriage vows seriously, especially if they married in a place of worship and exchanged vows before God. My mother remained a widow for 64 years after my father passed away at a very young age.

In this digital age, with freer social interaction between the sexes, and with online dating sites easily available, remaining faithful to one person for the rest of one’s life seems to be strictly for the firm believer in fairy tales of the genre ‘... and they lived happily ever after’.

Silver or grey divorces are on the rise. Asian societies have generally become more open to divorces.

Divorcees and single mothers are no longer stigmatised by family and friends. Children have become more accepting of their parents’ divorce.

The retirement years for empty nesters can make or break a marriage. When the children have flown the nest, one would think that is the best time for married couples to enjoy each other’s company. Having the whole house to themselves means having the peace and privacy to rekindle the romance that was relegated to the back-burner when the children were growing up.

But being together 24/7 could also result in daily acrimonious exchanges, with the couple getting on each other’s nerves. This was one of the possible explanations for the spike in non-Muslim divorce cases during the Covid pandemic when people were told to remain at home and not go out unless necessary.

According to National Statistics Department’s latest figures, non-Muslim divorces increased by 30.4% from 9,419 to 12,284 during Covid from 2020 to 2021.

Losing that loving feeling

For many senior couples, that old loving feeling is long gone, only to be replaced by a deep sense of loneliness, of unfulfilment and even regret at the realisation that perhaps their spouse is not that someone they want to spend the rest of their life with.

The situation is made worse when one partner has sexual needs that cannot or will not be met by the other partner.

Divorces are usually messy, ugly and expensive. The only winners are the lawyers. There is no point in saving a marriage that may have started off in heaven, but that has since quickly descended into marital hell.

Sure, there are couples who are blessed to have found their “soulmate” to share their lives with. But for many middle-aged couples, they are more likely to find themselves stuck in an unhappy marriage, wondering what happened to that sweetheart they loved and married so many years ago.

This is especially true for women in their 50s and 60s who feel trapped in their marriage. Emboldened by the rising number of silver-haired divorces they read about, they no longer think twice about initiating divorce proceedings. They no longer feel pressured to keep up a pretense of a happy marriage. They no longer fear facing the future alone.

Now better educated and able to support themselves financially, many divorcees are enjoying the single life again, or entering into new relationships. And with the children all grown and independent, there is even less reason for them to remain in the role of the long-suffering wife, especially if their husband has been unfaithful or abusive to them.

To be fair, there are husbands who want to leave their wives too. Some women are no angels, and do cheat on their husbands. Others are gold-diggers or title-seekers. Still others are so insecure, they become overly jealous and possessive of their husband, while many are born naggers, constantly harping on their husbands’ perceived faults. Such women can make marriage a living hell for their husband.

If it’s the man who initiates the divorce, it’s usually because of another woman who has re-kindled the spark of passion in him. Few men would want to divorce their wives who have brought up the children and provided them with all the comforts of home.

Even if these men have lost physical and emotional interest in their wives over the years, they would still want to remain married.

Couples who split amicably can choose to live separately without going through a divorce. They can still remain friends and enjoy family reunion dinners and outings. There should be no regret or bitterness on both sides. Forgive, forget and move on.

Women are no longer fixated on finding a husband before they get “too old”. Men are just as happy to remain eligible bachelors. We know friends who are happy to remain single if they have not found a kindred spirit to spend the rest of their lives with.

Datuk Dr Khairuddin Yusof and Datin Khairiah are an example of a happily married couple who've journeyed through live together. (Photo: DR KHAIRUDDIN YUSOF)

On the bright side, there are couples who have enjoyed marital bliss from their wedding day till the present day. These are truly marriages made in heaven, that no one and nothing can break asunder. These are rock-solid marriages, not marriages on the rocks. These happily married couples would be the first to tell you that it takes a lot of “give-and-take” and sacrifices to make a marriage work.

It is a milestone, an enviable achievement, when couples celebrate their golden wedding anniversary together. It’s a rarity too.

Given the changing times and the liberal social norms of today, the odds are heavily stacked against young couples to stay happily married for the rest of their lives.

When we look at young married couples, including our own adult children, we can only pray in our hearts that they will “love and honour each other for as long as they shall live”. Given the longer life span today, that could mean the next 40-50 years of their lives.

All newly-weds want their marriage to work. They want to grow old together.

Here are some tips for a long-lasting marriage. Remember it takes a lot of work for both parties.

1. Appreciate your spouse and show it with little acts of love.

2. Communicate. Share your feelings, your views, and your worries.

3. Continue to have sex and intimacy. Have weekly dates.

4. Never criticise or humiliate your spouse in front of others.

5. Have realistic expectations of each other.

6. Embrace your differences.

7. Have your own pursuits as well as shared ones.

8. Learn from each other, and respect each other.

9. Support each other in maintaining an active healthy lifestyle.

10. There will come a time when one spouse will pass on before the other. So cherish every moment spent together. 

The print copy was published on 2 Aug, and the online edition on 5 Aug. Some images have been added for this version. The Star article can be accessed at

Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.