Monday, April 29, 2019


Ikigai - the Japanese word for 'sense of purpose in life' has been very much on my mind lately. At this stage in our lives when we don't need to get up every morning to go to work, what would make us look forward to welcoming each new day?

As I write this, I think of my senior friends who complain about retirement being a long stretch of boredom, with nothing much to do. Beyond looking after their grandchildren, going shopping, playing golf, travelling, meeting up with friends, what else is there? Is this all there is to living life to the fullest in our retirement years?

Retirees with too much time on their hands are the envy of those with 1001 things to do, and never having time enough to do them. The grass is always greener on the other side.

Then there is another group - the lucky ones who are blessed with good health, money to spare, and nothing much to worry about. But money does not guarantee happiness or peace of mind. The rich too feel a void in their lives, an emptiness that needs to be filled with something they have yet to discover. This is one reason why many billionaires turn philanthropists. It makes them feel good to use their wealth for altruistic purposes.

In finding our ikigai, perhaps we could borrow KonMarie's tagline 'spark joy', not so much to declutter our homes but to apply the same principle to an activity or interest. If it sparks joy in us, then this could be our ikigai to fill the void, the emptiness in our lives. We will have a sense of purpose in doing good, in sharing and giving back to the community.

Volunteering at community farm Kebun-Kebun BangsarSeniorsAloud contributes towards two plots of vegetables there.
Some have found pleasure in activities such as gardening, painting, writing. But these are primarily solitary activities. They spark joy only in us. Why not take it one level higher, one step further to also spark joy in others by sharing our passions?

SeniorsAloud members helping out at Pitstop, a community cafe that serves meals to the poor and homeless.

I am, of course, referring to giving back to society where it matters. You will be surprised how good it makes you feel to be able to help others, and know that you have made a difference in someone else's life.

SeniorsAloud members who love animals are encouraged to volunteer at SPCA and other animal shelters.

Volunteerism can be in a myriad of ways - from donating money, time or energy, or sharing our skills and experience to just lending our shoulder to lean on for someone going through a difficult period.

A study on volunteerism among older people revealed these benefits:

~ Volunteering leads to better health, and longer life because doing good generates positive effects on our physical and mental health..

~ We make new friends, develop social confidence, and boost our social skills.

~ Our time is gainfully occupied, and we experience a sense of greater self-worth and trust.

However, to receive the positive health benefits, volunteers need to commit to an activity on a regular basis, at least one to two hours a week.

To quote a former chairman of Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM), "It is never more rewarding than seeing that a lifetime’s accumulated wisdom and experience are put to good use at one’s golden age."

And to quote former US President Franklin Roosevelt, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."

SeniorsAloud members presenting a cheque to widow and housewife, Helen Chan. She has three grown sons, two of whom are autistic.

And here's how we seniors can do our part, either as an individual or as a group.

~ For those of us with money to spare, we can donate to a deserving charity or a noble cause. Even RM10 can go a long way if many contribute. Some charities such as MAKNA (National Cancer Council) or Hospis Malaysia would welcome our help.

~ For those of us with time to spare, we can volunteer to help out at welfare organizations or community support groups when they are hosting an event.

Participating at Alzheimer's Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM)'s annual event to raise awareness of AD.

~ For those of us with energy to spare, we can start our own project to raise funds for charity, or create awareness for the less fortunate in society. SeniorsAloud has a Grant a Wish for the Elderly initiative that you can support whenever we organise a fund-raiser. The funds collected go towards helping the elderly or communities in need

(Top) Donating supplies to Tong Sim Old Folks Home. (Above) A bag of rice goes a long way for the poorest of the poor in Sentul. Our gifts spark joy in us and in the recipients too.

There are so many ways we can give back to society, including donating preloved items e.g. books, clothes, toys, to charities, NGOs and community centres. Personal items that no longer spark joy in us, may spark joy in others. 

Don't know who or where to donate your preloved items? Just contact SeniorsAloud and we will put you in touch with Kedai Jalanan and other community groups.

If you have materials but don't know what to do with them, donate them to Mums Sew With Love. They will put the material to good use. SeniorsAloud members pictured here with some of the single mums.

SeniorsAloud has a volunteer group that helps out at Pitstop and Kebun-Kebun Bangsar. The members are available to volunteer whenever the call comes from NGOs or community service groups. We are also looking at helping out at libraries and visiting welfare homes and activity centres for seniors (e.g. Pusat Aktiviti Warga Emas or PAWE). If you are interested to join our volunteer group, contact Choke Ling 012-2001929 or Kamil 019-6641951.

Be a volunteer and enjoy better health, make new friends and discover the joy of making a difference in someone else's life. This is what gives meaning and purpose in our retirement. Give it a try and experience the satisfaction and health benefits it brings.

Article written by Lily Fu
SeniorsAloud founder
MSc Applied Gerontology, MESL

Sunday, March 31, 2019


SeniorsAloud regularly receives emails and whatsapp messages enquiring about nursing homes for a loved one. First, let me say that we do not operate a nursing home. Second, we are not working with any aged care facility or retirement home operator.

Most of the enquiries we receive lack details, so we can't advise even if we would like to help. Here's a typical one:

"Hi, I am looking for a suitable nursing home for my elderly aunty. Can you please recommend a good one? Thank you."

Not much detailed info for us to work on, is there?

We always recommend doing an online search first, and narrowing down the list to a handful of addresses based on location, fees and facilities. Next is to follow up with a visit to each of the homes. Never rely on website info alone to make a choice. Glossy images may belie actual reality. They are part of marketing strategy to attract and appeal to potential clients.

Here's a checklist of what to look for on your first visit to the home. Be sure to ask the right questions.

1. Is the home licensed? This serves as a good guide as certain conditions need to be fulfilled before a license can be issued. Operators of aged care facilities in Petaling Jaya, for example, should have two licenses - a business license issued by MBPJ and the other by Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM). Ask whether there is a proper admission procedure. Is there a board of trustees or at the very least a management committee to oversee the running of the home? Homes that are run by one or two individuals with little relevant experience or qualifications are likely to be unlicensed. There must be checks and balances to ensure proper and efficient supervision and management of the home.

A simple, uncluttered room that is clean, airy and well-lit. Would be better to have bed rails to prevent the elderly from falling off the bed. The bedside rug should be non-slip and the edges weighted down to prevent tripping.
A morning exercise session for the elderly residents.
    2. Are the nurses and other staff trained? Remember, you will be leaving your loved one in their care 24/7. Do they treat the residents with respect and kindness? Do the staff include medical/health professionals e.g. doctor, physiotherapist? Do the staff look overworked or unfriendly? Are they mostly foreigners or locals? Are they able to communicate with the elderly to understand their needs? What are the provisions for emergencies? Do the staff keep you informed about your loved one when you are away? What is the staff/resident ratio? A rough guide would be:
    • For semi-mobile residents who require some assistance with daily activities. Ratio is 1:8.
    • For wheelchair bound or bedridden residents who may have mental sickness. Ratio is 1:4.
    • For fully dependent residents who have mental or behavourial problems and are unable to cope with daily living on their own. Ratio is 1:2.
    A nursing home with a garden scores a plus point. Residents can enjoy the outdoor sunlight and fresh air, or engage in some exercise, or in gardening.
    3. What is your first impression of the facility? Clean? Odourless? Well-ventilated and well-lit? Elder-friendly furniture and fixtures? Quiet surroundings? Safe and comfortable environment? Any greenery? If it's a double-storey building, look for a fire escape outside. If the home looks uninviting from the outside, there really is no point in ringing the doorbell. It will be a total waste of your time.

    Daily activities and planned meals at a home for the elderly.
    4. Are there planned meals and activities? Is the menu changed daily? Are the residents left to themselves to watch TV most of the time? Does the home arrange for outings or for volunteer groups to visit regularly and entertain the residents? Do the elderly residents look neglected?

    Karaoke session; Bingo. Some homes conduct handicraft and art therapy.
    5. Ask about the fees. Be prepared to pay more if you expect a certain level of care and facilities. The range can be as low as RM1000 a month to as high as RM5000 or more, depending on the type of care required, single room or dorm, and services provided. What do the fees cover besides meals? Laundry? Diapers? Medication? Personal toiletries? Hair cuts? Personal grooming? Daily checks for blood pressure, etc? Are receipts issued for payments? Is a deposit required?

    To meet the needs of a growing elderly population, operating an aged care facility, whether it is a nursing home or a daycare centre, has become a thriving business. Private nursing homes are a common sight in residential neighbourhoods. Most are housed in converted bungalows rather than in purpose-built facilities. Nearly all have attractive websites promising appealing surroundings and tender loving care. Don't be taken in by the hype.

    Ask around for recommendations from friends who have a family member in a nursing home. Let your fingers do some research online to back up a recommendation. Then contact the home to arrange for a visit. If they say you are welcome to drop by anytime, it is a good sign that they are prepared to be 'inspected' at your convenience, and not theirs. Remember to ask the right questions during the visit, and make a mental note of everything you see, both good and not so good. 

    This was one of the best aged care facilities I have visited. Pity it had to close due to the location - too far for families to visit daily.
    I hope this article gives you an idea of what to look for in a good home for an elderly. You will be surprised how many homes you will strike out from your list before you finally find one that could be the answer to your prayers.

    (Note: Images of homes featured in this post are the property of SeniorsAloud. Permission is required to use the images.)