Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Photo: Age Concern, NZ
Came across this letter (below) in The Straits Times a few days ago.

Explore townships for the elderly

THE Government should consider planning and building small, special townships for the elderly. This is what I have in mind:

The township and its special apartments should be built in such a way that they facilitate the movement of the disabled and the slower pace of the elderly. The apartments should be sold to the elderly at specially discounted prices based on a 30-year lease, with a stipulation that they cannot be resold in the market.

The purchase of these units should be restricted to citizens aged 55 and above. It would be good if they have proper security such as fencing and alarm systems, with access to township restricted to registered residents. The township should include its own health-care centres, medical clinics, pharmacy, library, training centres, and Internet and entertainment centres.

A print ad for Retirement Villages, UK
News and entertainment media sources should be provided free or at a subsidised rate to all the township's housing units to keep the residents well-informed and entertained. The township should elect its own town council and be run independently, with some help from the Housing Board.

It should have an elder-care system manned by employed nurses and volunteers. There can also be a small hospice nearby. Such an initiative would capture a substantial number of the elderly who have reached the age where they need to live within their means and comfortably, without imposing on their children.

Chin Cheng Yeong
Sounds like a retirement utopia. But seriously, would you want to live in a town where all your neighbours are aged 55+?

The dining room at Fitch Home, USA.
The dining room at a retirement home in the suburbs of Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
A retirement village in Malaysia or Singapore exists only in a retiree's dream at the moment. Developers are only beginning to see the potential in providing more housing options for those who can afford homes with age-friendly amenities and facilities.

There is definitely a market for retirement homes tailored for active, independent senior citizens who prefer to share living space with their peer group in a community-type environment, than to live with their adult children who have no time for them due to work commitments.

We all love options, especially when it comes to retirement housing. There should be plenty of choices depending on what our expectations are, and how much we are prepared to pay for them.

Saturday, May 28, 2011


Source: Straits Times 28 May 2011
In the picture above, students learn to bond with the elderly in Project Heartstrings, a 2-day event organized by Hwa Chong Institution (HCI) and the People's Association Youth Movement.  The event brought together 100 students and 100 senior citizens from Lions Befrienders, Singapore. The aim was to raise awareness of social isolation among the elderly.

We often think of the generation gap as one between parents and their teenage children. What is often overlooked is the more serious and wider gap between adult children of the baby boomer generation and their elderly parents.

Baby boomers represent the post-war generation. They were brought up in an era of plenty, when education was a right. Their parents, on the other hand, lived through the war years of scarcity, when education was a privilege. Hence, the huge difference in mindset and lifestyle. The result - constant friction and bickering over trivial matters, with both sides experiencing unnecessary emotional pain and remorse.

Most intergenerational bonding projects are targeted at bringing together the elderly and the young. The omission of the sandwich generation speaks volumes about the need to foster better understanding between the elderly and their adult children.

Attempts to organize events to encourage bonding between the older generations have not been very successful. They fail to draw participation from adult children. There are also no counselling services to help adult children cope with their filial responsibilities. Not surprising that Singapore, for example, has to resort to passing a law that makes it mandatory for adult children to support their aged parents.

We need to constantly remind ourselves that our parents took care of us when we were children, and now it's our turn to care for them in their old age. And as the years pass, it will be our children who will take over the role of caregiver. How we treat our aged parents now will determine how our adult children will treat us when we are no longer able to care for ourselves. What kind of role model are we giving them?

Wednesday, May 25, 2011


Once in a while it's good to be reminded about where we are heading in life.

Monday, May 23, 2011


Finding love the second time around isn't easy. When you are divorced or widowed in your 60s or 70s, the odds of marrying again or even finding a companion are stacked heavily against you. Unless you live in the US or Europe where dating among seniors is a social norm, you are likely to invite frowns or raised eyebrows from family and friends alike.

In most Asian societies, a widow is expected to remain faithful to the memory of her deceased husband. However, a widower who chooses to remarry is congratulated, especially if his bride is young enough to be his daughter. What a catch! He's the envy of his friends. Let's admit it, the guys get all the breaks when it comes to the gender issue.

If you are a divorcee or a widow, any chance of a new love blossoming is quickly nipped in the bud. You have to deal with:

~ Your in-laws. They will never forgive you for dishonouring the family name.
~ Your children. They will resent a stranger taking over their beloved parent's place.
~ His children. They will regard you as an usurper of their rightful inheritance.
~ His relatives. They will view you as a gold-digger.

Those who couldn't care less about what others think may find themselves with a different problem. There are just not enough good men in their 60s or 70s to choose from. They are either taken, in poor health, or have sworn everlasting allegiance to their dearly departed spouse. My single girlfriends who are in their 60s would rather maintain their status quo than marry just to have 'Mrs' prefixed to their name. None of them are that desperate.

Those who are seeking companionship for their sunset years must take the initiative to go out and meet people. Or at least get involved in some online social networking.

A friendship club for seniors here in KL or Singapore will attract a lot of interest. Any takers?

Friday, May 20, 2011


Today's grandmothers are a new breed altogether, nothing remotely close to the traditional image of how grandmothers should look and conduct themselves.

Hello to the 21st century grandma - attractive, spunky, feisty and fun-loving. Baby boomer grandmas (and grandpas too) are breaking the mold handed down by generations of grandparents who have lived through the WW1-2 era.

Grandma shows off a yoga posture.
As a kid growing up in the 1950s, I used to dread visiting my paternal grandma. She was a stern, forbidding woman who stood no nonsense from anyone, especially her grandchildren. To her, children should be seen and not heard. They were also not to be hugged or kissed.

Grandmas of yesteryears.
But that's probably the way she was brought up by her mother, my great grandmother. And she in turn by her own mother. I can never forget all those black-and-white portraits of elderly ancestors hanging in my grandma's sitting room. Their cold, steely gaze bore down on me no matter where I was standing. To a child, it was a terrifying experience to be left alone in that room.

Thank God, today's baby boomer grandmas have broken free of the oppressive expectations society and culture have placed on them. Why should grandmas be expected to wear only drab, funereal colors? Which rule book dictates that grandmas must look old and behave their age? Who says grandmas (and grandpas) can't go out and have fun?

Wednesday, May 18, 2011


Most of us have a morbid fascination about our demise. How long will I live? Will I die at a ripe old age, or will I die young? The question must have popped into our head more than once, I'm sure. Well, there is no clear-cut answer. No one knows for sure when we will breathe our last. Doctors can give only an approximate date to their terminally-ill patients.

But all this may soon change. No more guesswork, no need to consult fortune tellers or rely on the doctor's prediction. In a few months, a website will be launched that allows healthcare professionals to input patients medical data, and enable them to predict fairly accurately how long their patients will live. The jury is still out on whether to make the information available only to healthcare professionals, or to anyone who wants to know.

Would you want to know your expiry date? Not everyone may be that curious. We want to know, yet we hesitate out of fear of hearing bad news. What good would knowing do anyway?

Plenty, according to the team behind the website. For one, you can make healthcare decisions like whether to subject your elderly parent to expensive and aggressive medical treatment if you know he has only a year to live. Or you may find the information useful in making decisions about your finances. Indeed, a lot of major medical and financial decisions are based on one's life expectancy. Insurance companies can vouch for that.

Add life decisions as well. If you know you have a couple more years to live, would you spend the time cursing the powers that be for dealing you a bad hand? Or would you throw caution to the wind and live life to the full, savouring every minute of the precious time left?

Weighing the pros and cons, I'd rather not know if I would live to 100, or die within the next few years. I would sooner trust the Almighty than some geriatric calculator to make that all-important pronouncement.

What about you? Would you want to know?

Monday, May 16, 2011


New Sunday Times 15 May 2011. (Click on all images to enlarge for clearer text.)
If you are in the 50-70 age bracket, this is one online test you want to try. I came across it in The New Sunday Times yesterday, and couldn't resist taking the test to find out if I am at risk of developing Alzheimer's.

Click here to take the test.
The test is a follow-up to the landmark Oxford University study published last year which credited a simple vitamin pill, costing only 50 sen a day, for reducing brain shrinkage linked to Alzheimer's by as much as 500%. It is a free test created by an Oxford team to enable people to find out if they have mild cognitive impairment (slight memory lapses) which can be an early warning of Alzheimer's.

My test results show I'm at low risk of developing Alzheimer's.
Do take the test. All you need is 15 minutes of uninterrupted time. The test is best done on a full screen, minimum screen size of 1024 x 768 pixels. You will require Javascript and a mouse for easy clicking. Doing the 4-part simple test is fun and mentally stimulating. You get the results instantly at the end of the test.

Just bear in mind that the test is not a diagnosis, but it does detect whether you are showing early signs of Alzheimer's. It is recommended that you take the test the following year to monitor your cognitive function. If your score puts you at risk, refer to the 10 Alzheimer's preventive steps, and take the necessary action.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


Photo: The Star 6 May 2011
This picture and the accompanying article "Growing old alone is a sad thought" in the Star last week prompted me to write this blog post. Looking after my mom for the past months after her hip surgery has made me realize that growing old can be very lonely if you don't have someone to share the journey with you. You can have a house full of family members, yet the loneliness remains. Your adult children and grandchildren are not of your generation. They don't share the same wavelength or speak the same 'old' language. They are out most of the day, and when home, are busy with their own things. The little time spent with you is mostly confined to meal times at home or out.

It makes little difference whether you are in your 60s or 80s, living at home or in a home - you are still marking time on your own if your other half is no longer around. All day long you sit there in your favourite armchair or lie in bed, alone with your thoughts. What is going on in your mind? Are you reliving your carefree days of youth? Are you regretting over things you should have or shouldn't have done? Or are you pondering your future, whatever is left of it, as you count down your remaining years?

As I look at my mother sitting staring into space, these are the questions that run through my mind. I wonder too when I reach her age, would I end up just like her - lonely, depressed and showing early signs of dementia?

I hope not. I think not. I'm sure not.

There is no quality of life if each day is spent waiting - waiting for meal time or bed-time. Having someone to engage with you is important. Blessed are couples who stay happily married in their old age. They have each other to lean on. They have held true to their marriage vows of "through thick and thin, in sickness and in health, till death do us part".

As my good friend, Mrs Jagjeet Singh, 70, says, Couples that do things together stay together. They should also have complete trust in each other, and be deserving of that trust. With the children grown and independent, this is the best time for retired couples to rediscover each other, travel together, enjoy each other's company and rekindle that romantic spark in their marriage.”

However, there are elderly couples who bicker all day long and get on each other's nerves. For them and for those who choose to remain single, it's important they have a close circle of friends with common interests. They should get together on a regular basis and enjoy group activities and outings. There must be something on their social calendar to look forward to each week.

A group of senior citizens enjoying a day outing.
Alternatively, the elderly should develop a passion for at least two things - one that they can enjoy on their own (e.g. reading, gardening), and one that involves other people (e.g. social activities like going for classes, or volunteering for community services like helping the underprivileged). Even if they are wheelchair bound or in a nursing home, they can still keep themselves busy and useful.

The message is to have an interest in life, and in people. The fastest route to loneliness and depression is to be a recluse, to spend your days feeling wretched and sorry for yourself.

Monday, May 9, 2011


The Sunday Star 19 August 2007
Did you know there is a university that caters exclusively to senior citizens aged 50 or above right here in Kuala Lumpur? No? Well, you are not the only one. Up till last week, I had no idea that the only University of the Third Age (U3A) in the region is located right here in KL, in University Putra Malaysia (UPM).

I am familiar with U3A, UK, having written about it in a March 2009 post "Never too old to be a lifelong learner". (Do read it - lots of resources for seniors interested in lifelong learning.) As a strong advocate of LLL , you can imagine how excited I was to receive an invitation to U3A Malaysia's Orientation Day last Saturday.

A bit of background info on U3A Malaysia (U3AM):  It started in 2007 as a pilot program known as the Lifelong Learning Initiative for the Elderly (LLIFE) initiated by the Director of the Institute of Gerontology, Professor Dr. Tengku Aizan Hamid. The encouraging response from senior citizens resulted in the setting up of U3A Malaysia a year later. The project is supported by the Government of Malaysia and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA).

Currently U3AM offers 39 non-academic courses covering a wide range of subjects including languages, art and craft, gardening, healthy cooking, swimming, traditional Chinese medicine, fitness, computing and digital photography. There are two semesters of three months each. Participants can sign up for any 1-3 courses per semester for a fee of only Rm80. Each additional course is an extra Rm30. Instructors are either members of the teaching staff of UPM, or industry experts with a wealth of experience.
(Pic: Prof Tengku Aizan)

This is one government-backed program that deserves two thumbs-up, and Prof Tengku Aizan should be given a standing ovation for all her hard work in getting the project off the ground. U3A (KL and Selangor) has recently been registered with the ROS. A small but dedicated committee of volunteers led by its president, Mr Azlan Hussain, is helping to run the program.
President of U3A KL and Selangor, Mr Azlan Hussain
The first course commences on 16 May. If you are keen to sign up, you can download the registration form from the website. For more details on courses and schedule, please visit the website at http://u3amalaysia.wordpress.com/

Here's a pictorial account of U3AM's Orientation Day at the Institute of Gerontology, UPM.
Seniors eager to sign up for U3A membership and register for the courses.
A section of the attendees listening to the briefing by Senior Research Officer and U3AM course coordinator, Mr Chai Sen Tyng.
One of the U3AM posters on display.

 There's even a graduation ceremony upon completion of the two semesters. Click on the image to enlarge.
For semester one, I've signed up for Swimming, Healthy Cooking, Introduction to Traditional Chinese Medicine, Basic Digital Photography and Adult Development & Ageing (free core course) all for the incredibly affordable fee of Rm110!

The only downside of U3A Malaysia is the distance. All courses are held at UPM which is a good 20-minute drive from the city. But for those living in the vicinity or near a KTM station, this shouldn't be an issue.

As the website says, "What are you waiting for? Come join us on the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, have fun and make new friends along the way!"

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Friday, May 6, 2011


Source: The Straits Times 6 May 2011
There was a time during my parents generation when you had to slog really hard for years before you made your first million bucks. These days there are short cuts to amassing wealth. You can strike it rich in a lottery, win a game show that offers a million-dollar prize, or marry into wealth. Then there are the more shady methods like conning gullible folks, especially the elderly and the lovelorn, into parting with their savings.

Or you could charge RM20 million (S$8.5m) for services rendered. That's precisely what Shazryl Eskay Abdullah did when he helped Merong Mahawangsa Sdn Bhd to procure a contract said to be worth RM2 billion to build the 'crooked bridge' to replace the causeway linking Malaysia and Singapore. The project was announced by former PM Mahathir Mohamad in 2003, but was subsequently canned by his successor Abdullah Badawi in 2006.

Eskay filed a suit against the company and its executive director Datuk Yahya Jalil in 2002 claiming breach of contract for failing to pay him the RM20 remuneration after he had secured the contract for the company and RM640m in foreign funding for the project.

The Star 6 May 2011
Yesterday the court ruled that Eskay was not entitled to the RM20m remuneration. The news report of the story in Singapore's Straits Times uses the word 'commission' instead of 'remuneration'. Interesting difference.

I quote from the Straits Times: "The case of the crooked bridge has thrown a spotlight on how the Malaysian government awards major projects." The reports confirm what people already know - that if you have connections with people in high places, you are in a vantage position to leverage on those connections for personal gain.

Apparently Eskay had told Yahya that he had good relations with high-ranking government officials, and could set up meetings for Yahya with then Finance Minister Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to discuss the project, and also with Tan Sri Megat Junid Megat Ayub's family.
Here's what the judge said that was not reported in The Star article:

"While the practice of awarding contracts to selected individuals and corporations without calling for open and public tenders was irregular and not transparent, it was not necessarily illegal. Awarding projects which involve large contract sums must no doubt be carried out through public open tenders and not through private arrangements or by using the influence of ministers and political leaders for personal gain or benefit. The object of building the bridge between Malaysia and Singapore must necessarily be for the good of the people and should not merely be to confer benefits on a certain class or group of people who have the knack of having connections with high-level politicians."

He did qualify his statement by saying that in Eskay's case, "participation was done in a transparent manner, through correspondence with the Economic Planning Unit." Well, which is it? Was Eskay's service legal or illegal? I guess the judge wants us to draw our own conclusion

The axed 'crooked bridge' project to link Singapore and Johor-Malaysia.
Eskay would have been a multi-millionaire if he had been paid the commission. This is how some people get filthy rich - by soiling their hands with dirty money obtained from crooked projects!

If the name Eskay sounds familiar, it's the same guy involved in the controversial Anwar sex video scandal that's currently dominating the headlines. Talk about over-exposure in the media!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011


This video was forwarded to me today for sharing on Seniorsaloud. Mayor Hazel McCallion is truly an inspiring role model for seniors everywhere, especially for our public officials and government leaders. Imagine what Kuala Lumpur would be like if we had a mayor of her calibre.

Click here to read more about Mayor "Hurricane" Hazel McCallion who just turned 90 in February 2011!

Monday, May 2, 2011


The rising cost of living remains a very real concern for everyone, not just the poor. For retirees from the middle-income group, their primary source of funds is their EPF savings, FDs and share dividends. They must keep a close watch on their expenses, and adjust their lifestyle accordingly. They can't expect to maintain the same lifestyle they had when they were working and drawing a good salary.

Here are 10 tips on how retirees can stretch their savings.

1. Make ONE your favourite number: one home, one car, one credit card, one wife (no girlfriends or mistresses). That should shave off at least half of your expenses. When you keep personal possessions to a minimum, it's much cheaper to maintain them.

2. Downsize. Consider moving to a smaller house or apartment. If all your adult children have already moved out, you don't need a 5-room bungalow that's expensive to maintain. The same goes for your car. Trade in your fuel-guzzler for a more economical Myvi.

3. Cut the fat. Trim the frills. In other words, buy only what you need, pay for only what you use. The Air Asia model. This applies to Astro (cable TV) packages, home decorations and renovations. Do you really need a larger kitchen? Or an LCD flat screen TV in every room? Consider also selling off your club membership if you rarely make use of the club facilities.

4. Clear your debts, mortgages and loans ASAP. This applies in particular to credit card debt. It's so easy to pay just the minimum. But that's how you can end up RM50,000 in the red. You also want to avoid paying late charges.

5. Look out for sales, discounts, and special offers when you go shopping. Adopt the practice of "Ask, and you may receive". Leverage on your age. What have you to lose except a bit of pride? You can get good senior citizen concessions for concert tickets, university tuition fees, meals and a host of other items.

6. Likewise, with privilege cards. Sign up for one, or more. You either get a discount on your purchases or you accumulate points that can be converted to cash or gifts. There are plenty to choose from depending on your purchasing habits.

7. Next up is transport. Save on fuel. Keep the family car for the weekends or special trips. Whenever you can, opt for public transport - bus or train. Avoid taxis at all costs unless you have absolutely no other option. For short distances, use your two good legs. Nothing like a brisk walk to the neighbourhood convenience store to get the papers or a loaf of bread. Good for your heart too.

8. Resist the temptation to acquire the latest gadgets. If your trusty old computer, camera or mobile phone is working fine, why upgrade to a newer and more pricey model? Unless photography is your passion, it's a waste of money to invest in a high-end camera that you use only occasionally for family functions. 

9. Choose generic over branded, buy from government sources rather than private. Bata shoes serve the same purpose as Clarks which can be 3x more expensive. The key word here is comfort, not name. You can purchase prescription drugs from government hospitals and clinics at a fraction of the prices charged by private hospitals and pharmacies.

10. If you love to travel, go economy all the way, from air tickets to budget hotels. Why spend thousands on 5-star hotels when you are in your room only to shower and sleep? The rest of the time you are probably out checking the tourist attractions. A decent 3 or 4-star hotel that is clean and comfortable will do just as well. Also, plan your trips for the off-peak season and save on ticket prices.

Get into the habit of keeping tabs on your expenses. That way you know how much you have spent for the month. This allows you to make adjustments for the coming months. You will be surprised at how much small expenses can add up to at the end of the month. Try it for a month. You'll be glad you did.

Remember, retirement is when you have the luxury of time, not time for luxury. Unless, of course, you have several millions stashed away to see you through the next 10-20 years. But that doesn't mean you can't enjoy your golden years. It's all about careful spending and smart management of your financial resources.