Wednesday, February 29, 2012


At a recent fashion show in Madrid, models strutted the catwalk dressed in the latest autumn/winter collection by designer Maria Barros. It would have been like any other fashion show, except for one thing - all the models wore GREY wigs and were made up to look very much older.

I am not sure what the designer had in mind, whether it was to honour older women, or to start a new trend. Whatever the case may be, I am not too sure it had the intended effect. I just feel that this only adds to the perception that old is grey, and grey is old. I would prefer grey is BOLD. That would send a more positive message.

What do you think? Wouldn't it have been better to use older women to model the clothes, and show that women in their 50s or 60s are still beautiful and can carry themselves just as well as younger women? (Click here to view more photos from the Daily Mail.)

A few days ago, TODAY reported that a group of 15 students from the Nanyang Polytechnic in Singapore had started a Facebook campaign to 'embrace ageing'. Their aim - to create awareness and promote social inclusion and acceptance of the elderly in Singapore.

They are encouraging people to show their support by either changing their Facebook profile picture to a photo of an elderly person (I wonder whose photo they will choose, and for how long it will remain there) or post on their Facebook status the number of years and days they have before turning 65. (A countdown? Sounds ominous, doesn't it?).

And to mark the first month of the "Embrace Ageing" movement on March 10, supporters are encouraged to wear either grey clothing (urghhh!) or accessories. (Here we go again, grey = old.) The idea of seeing grey everywhere on March 10 is kind of depressing. It's time we stopped these negative associations with the colour grey. A change in mindset is sorely needed.

Their Facebook page has garnered over 700 likes, and close to 1500 people have said they would be wearing grey on March 10. Come that day, Singapore will be a sea of grey.

I applaud these young people for drawing attention to the elderly, and for sending the message that we should all embrace ageing. So they have my support. I will wear grey on March 10. But I will accessorize with something bright and bold to show that senior citizens are like young people. They too love all the colours of the rainbow. But grey is a colour they love least of all.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012


Front page of LIFE! section of the Straits Times
First, let me say 'Congratulations!' to Meryl Streep, 62, for winning the Oscar for Best Actress and to Christopher Plummer, 82, for Best Supporting Actor. It's a historic win for Plummer as he is the oldest actor to win an academy award. Their win goes to show that being over 60, 70, or 80 does not have to mean being over the hills and descending into the valley of death. There is life and success even after we have passed the retirement age. Dreams can come true regardless of how many candles we have on our birthday cake.

Click here to read Marie's letter.

This article is intended to be a response to Marie Lee's question in the New Sunday Times - "Is it worth living till 90?" She presents a list of reasons why she does not want to live a long life, all of them familiar to us.

That, to me, is taking a very bleak view of the future. It is feeding into the negative perception of ageing as fraught with ill health, limited finances and loss of self-esteem.

The future begins now. We have it in our hands to shape how our life in 20 or 30 years time will turn out. If we plan ahead, there is no reason why we can't enjoy our golden years. Adopting the right lifestyle habits and early retirement planning will increase our chances of ageing successfully.

According to the 2010 National Population and Housing Census, there are over 27,279 centenarians in Malaysia, many of them still active and independent. It is time for a change in mindset of how we view old age. Start by being proud of who you are, and of your age. Do that, and public perception of senior citizens will change. No longer will we be seen as useless old fogies who contribute nothing to society and are a drain on the country's (and family's) resources.

Here are some role models to inspire us.

Prince Philip at 90 still cuts a dashing figure. Olivia Neubauer, 100, still teaches at an elementary school. Click here to view an interview with Olivia.

Who can forget our own Suzanne Lee, who turns 88 in August, and her husband Tony, 89, from Penang? The Star recently featured the couple in a 3-page spread. Click here to read the article. They are active bloggers. Suzanne gives some great tips on staying fit and how to prevent hair loss on their blog at She is quite a fashionista too. Among her many hobbies is a passion for turning clothes, bags and shoes into her own unique creations. The couple has been married 64 years, and still enjoys fun activities together. Way to go, Suzanne and Tony!

Malaysia's former PM Mahathir has retained his youthful good looks at 87. What about Singapore's former PM Lee Kuan Yew, 89, who still gets invitations to speak at world conferences? He is a strong advocate of active ageing.

There's also Datuk Lum Kin Tuck, 94, founder and president of the National Council of Senior Citizens Organization, Malaysia (NACSCOM). He continues to do a great job advocating for better services and quality of life for older persons in the country.

So, the question again: "Is it even worth living till 90?" My answer is a resounding YES!

For more role models of successful ageing, click on the article below:


Monday, February 27, 2012


Just discovered one of my heroes got married recently. Goes to show dreams can come true. So never give up on your dreams. Prayers help too. Here's a beautiful song that Nick wrote and sings on this video below. The words are so simple, yet so profound at the same time. A great song to sing along with your grandchildren, or just listen to.

Hope you have a terrific week! I know I will.

Sunday, February 26, 2012


My apologies if you have found the past couple of posts quite depressing. To make up for it, here's a beautiful start to the week ahead. Watch the video above on full screen to enjoy the incredible beauty under the sea. Vibrant colours, amazing photography.

Saturday, February 25, 2012


Daily Mirror article

Everyone dies - sooner or later. Yet few want to talk about how they would want to die. Death is still very much a taboo subject. It is the proverbial elephant in the room. Strange, but thoughts of death have been on my mind of late. No, I don't have a death wish, but the subject keeps cropping up.

Just the other day, a friend sent me a request to circulate a prayer to mark World Cancer Day on 4 February. Another shared a video documentary with a powerful message on "Life Before Death". Two weeks ago, the Guardian published this article "Opting for Death with Dignity" by Ken Murray. Do read it. It's food for thought.

In the article Ken writes about Charlie, a highly respected surgeon who was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Charlie knew his chances of survival were about 15% at best. So what did he do? He closed his practice and spent his remaining months with his family enjoying life as best as he could. He opted for quality of life at home with his loved ones.

Doctors have seen enough death in the hospital to know how they want to die. To quote from Ken's article, "Almost all medical professionals have seen what we call 'futile care' being performed on people. That is when doctors bring the cutting edge of technology to bear on a grievously ill person near the end of life. The patient will get cut open, perforated with tubes, hooked up to machines, and assaulted with drugs. All of this occurs in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at a cost of tens of thousands of dollars a day. What it buys is misery we would not inflict on a terrorist. I cannot count the number of times fellow physicians have told me, in words that vary only slightly: 'Promise me, if you find me like this, that you'll kill me.' They mean it. Some medical personnel wear medallions stamped 'NO CODE' to tell physicians not to perform CPR on them."

I recall seeing my former father-in-law in his final days at the hospital. He was ready to go, but family members insisted on the doctors doing all they could to keep him alive. Would those extra days have made a difference to him? It certainly made a difference in the hospital bills. As far as I could tell, he was barely conscious. Everyone knew there was no point in prolonging his agony. Yet no one except my ex dared to suggest taking his father off the life-support machines. That would be extreme cruelty, grossly inhumane and totally unforgivable. No filial son or daughter would want to be eternally condemned for letting a parent die when he could have lived another day or two, another week or two.

When our time comes, how would we want to go? Quietly without any fuss, in the comfort of our own home surrounded by our loved ones? Or in a hospital bed, groaning in pain, with tubes sticking out from all over our body, and strangers at our bedside? Is life in such a state worth clinging onto?

The answer is obvious, isn't it? Just let it be known in writing so that no one in the family will feel guilty about heeding our DNR order.

A DNR bracelet. In some states in the US, for example, in Idaho, all medical services personnel must honour the patient's health decisions.

Related article (including video):


Wednesday, February 22, 2012


It's been a while since I last stepped on the scales. So it came as a shock to me the other day when I decided to weigh myself. 57 kg! I had vowed never to exceed my ideal weight of 52 kg. What happened? How did I pile on the extra kilos?

I don't drive, so of course I walk - A LOT. I am very active - my calendar is chock-full of events and appointments. Ah, I know the culprit. It must be the hours I spend at my computer handling emails, doing research and writing articles. I have also been slack about exercising. I used to do road running, yoga, and aerobics quite religiously. After my second major operation in 2008, my exercise regime has dwindled to just weekly dance class. I definitely need to step up and shape up.

My work station. Walking the talk, and staying committed to exercising for good health.

Immediate Solution: I've put up reminders in front of my desk-top computer to get moving after an hour. To make sure I do just that, I've placed a clock right at my keyboard, and set the alarm to ring at hourly intervals. I vow to restart my daily 30-minute stretching and strength-training exercise. I shall continue to do this till I regain my ideal weight of 52 kg by my birthday in June.

When you are retired, it's easy to spend the days doing nothing except eat, sleep, and watch TV. Even if you don't watch TV, but spend hours reading or at the computer, it's still pretty much a sedentary lifestyle for many retirees. This is especially so for men. While the wives utilize the free time to sign up for classes, go on group tours or take up voluntary work, the husbands prefer to stay at home. Guys, is this true?

Research has shown that being physically active can add years to your life while a sedentary lifestyle actually speeds up the ageing process, and contributes to a host of health problems like obesity, heart diseases and diabetes.

The choice is ours to make. Walking is free and easy, and flexible too in terms of when and where you want to it, and with whom. Just 30 minutes will do.

So invest in a comfortable pair of walking shoes and start walking round the block or in the neighbourhood park. I'll be doing so this very evening.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012


At the end of the long 47-year wait - to be grateful to the government, or not?
 (The Star 16 Feb)
I don't get it. In this age of technology and with almost every government procedure now computerized, why do these elderly people have to wait decades to get their citizenship approved?

47 years - that's how long it took for the Home Ministry to approve 84-year old S. Sethu's application. He had applied five times and only succeeded on his sixth attempt. Why was his application rejected five times? Why was it finally approved after 47 years? Did something change in the long interim? Or was it merely a change of heart on the part of the government?

Plenty of questions but no answer. It would be good to know so that other unsuccessful applicants would have a better idea of how to increase their chances of obtaining Malaysian citizenship.

For those interested in the application procedure, this is what I have gathered from the Home Ministry website:

(Citizenship Application under Article 16 – Persons born in the Federation Before Merdeka Day, 31 August 1957)


To register a person aged 18 years or above who was born in the Federation before Merdeka Day as a citizen of Malaysia.


The applicant is required to appear before the Registrar of Citizenship/Assistant Registrar of Citizenship when submitting the application.

The applicant should be born in the Federation before Merdeka Day (excluding Sabah and Sarawak).

The applicant should be 18 years old or above on the date of application.

The applicant has resided in the Federation over the previous 7 years and not less than 5 years from and until the date of submission of application.

The applicant intends to reside in the Federation.

The applicant is of good character.

The applicant has a simple knowledge of Malay Language.

Sounds pretty straightforward. So what's the problem? These are elderly folks who pose no threat whatsoever to the country. Tens of thousands of foreigners have already received their citizenship papers. They have stayed in the country for far fewer years than these elderly applicants. What's the explanation?

Another successful applicant, Mary Theresa, now 78, waited 50 years to get that piece of document which would enable her to enjoy the full benefits of being a citizen.

Let's hope it was worth the long wait for all these elderly new citizens of Malaysia.

Please read related article:


Sunday, February 19, 2012


An inclusive budget for Singaporeans. (Front page of Saturday's Straits Times)
Senior citizens in Singapore had reason to smile yesterday when Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam unveiled the 2012 budget that addressed some of the financial problems facing this cohort of the population.

Headlines such as these below bring heartening news not only to the elderly, but also to their family members who are caregivers.

Some excerpts from the DPM's Budget Speech:

Health-care expenditure will double from $4 billion to $8 billion a year for the next five years. While part of it will be spent on increasing infrastructure and manpower, a significant amount will go towards providing subsidies to the elderly and their caregivers.

From the third quarter of this year, all patients who choose wards with six to eight beds at community hospitals will receive a minimum subsidy of 20 per cent on their bills, with poorer patients getting as much as 75 per cent off their bills.

On top of that, subsidised patients at community hospitals, nursing homes and those using homecare services will not have to pay the 7 per cent goods and services tax on their bills.

A family with an elderly parent in a private nursing home can see their monthly bill go down from $2,800 to $1,700. Families who look after an elderly parent at home will see their cost go down from $1,400 to $700 a month with the new subsidies. It is hoped this will result in half the frail seniors continuing to live at home rather than be placed in a nursing home.

Those who need a maid for an elderly family member with dementia or those unable to care for themselves will get a $120 monthly cash grant. This is on top of the $95 concession on the maid levy for families with elderly members.

To improve their safety, the Government will subsidise home modifications in Housing Board flats for the elderly. Features such as grab bars and anti-slip floor tiles will be worth about $2,000, but residents need pay no more than $250. This Enhancement for Active Seniors (Ease) programme will benefit 130,000 households and cost the Government $260 million over the next 10 years.

By 2020, the number of public general hospital beds will be increased by 1,900, or 30 per cent, and four more community hospitals will be built, adding a total of 1,800 beds.

The Government will also more than double the services in the long-term care sector. This includes both nursing homes and home-based health and social care services. To provide all these services, many more doctors, nurses and allied health-care professionals will be needed. Money will also be spent on 'paying them more competitively'.

Income-wise, there is also good news for older workers.

To encourage more firms to hire older workers, the Government will spend $470 million a year on subsidising the wage bill of employers over the next five years.

At the same time, it will raise the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution rate of workers 50 years and older. By fulfilling this longstanding wish, the Government hopes to entice seniors to return to work and work longer.

The two-pronged approach to cope with an ageing workforce and reduce the dependence on foreign workers. 'People are healthier and living longer,' the VPM said. 'But unfortunately, working careers have not lengthened to the same extent.'

The current generation of older Singaporeans, in particular, has to cope with limited cash and CPF savings because wages were lower 30 years ago, he noted. The Minimum Sum they had to set aside then in their CPF for retirement was much less.

So, to boost their retirement savings and coax more to keep working, the CPF contribution rates of those between 50 and 55 years will be eased up slowly to the 36 per cent younger workers get.

From September, employers will pay a CPF rate of 14 per cent for workers between 50 and 55 years old, up from the current 12 per cent. For workers between 55 and 60 years, they will pay 10.5 per cent, up from 9 per cent. For workers between 60 and 65 years old, they will pay 7 per cent, up from 6.5 per cent. At the same time, workers aged between 50 and 60 years old must also put in an extra 0.5 percentage point into their CPF accounts.

To encourage older workers to keep working, the share of their tax-free income will be doubled. From Year of Assessment 2013, those between 55 and 59 will enjoy $6,000 worth of tax relief, up from $3,000. Workers aged 60 and older will enjoy $8,000 of tax relief, up from $4,000.

Under this wage bill subsidy scheme, which is locked in for at least five years, the Government will effectively pay employers for hiring workers aged above 50. It will pay 8 per cent of the wages of those earning up to $3,000 a month. For those earning between $3,000 and $4,000, it will pay a smaller proportion.

All together, the scheme will cover 80 per cent of the older workforce or 350,000 people, and cost the Government $470 million a year.

It would be hard to find fault with these provisions to ease life for older workers and the elderly. No doubt there will be folks who will continue to complain and ask for more goodies.

Still able to drive a cab at 75? (Saturday's Straits Times)
In a separate ST report, older cab drivers in Singapore may have reason to celebrate too. The Land Transport Authority is reviewing the age limit to hold a taxi driver vocational licence. The 12,000-member National Taxi Association have been calling for the LTA to raise the retirement age from 73 to 75. It was last raised in 2006 from 70 to 73.

This is a confirmation that not only do people now enjoy a longer life span, but also an extended working life span.

Thursday, February 16, 2012


(The Malay Mail did a full page write-up about me and my blog in 2008. I've reproduced a slightly edited version here to answer some of the many queries I've been receiving about the blog. A note of thanks to those of you who attended SeniorsAloud's first offline community event this morning. It was a huge success! )

MALAY MAIL August 12, 2008

THE digital divide is getting smaller as more and more senior citizens take that first tentative step into the world wide web, to explore, express and learn.

Surveys have revealed that senior citizens aged 65 and above make up the fastest growing age group online, but as the number of users grows, the amount of content to cater for them remains a step or two behind.

This is where people such as Lily Fu, a 60-year-old grandmother of four, come in. She launched her blog, SeniorsAloud ( in May with one goal in mind.

"I wanted to provide senior citizens with an avenue to network online and share their life experiences. We believe in active ageing, and in living our golden years with passion and purpose," writes the part-time university tutor and English Language trainer. With a host of guest bloggers, topics relevant to the elderly are frenetically discussed to give the senior citizens a voice on the web.

When did you start using the internet?

I was first introduced to the Internet in 1994 when I was visiting my daughter in Canada. One night, I saw her emailing and chatting with her university friends online. I was amazed. What a great way to keep in touch – so much faster than by conventional mail, and far cheaper than paying for long distance calls.

Soon after, I bought my first desktop. As a high school teacher then, I was interested in using the Internet to supplement my English classes. I started a chat-room on IRC for my students in 1996. I believe we were among the early schools with an online presence. I’m quite proud of that.

How did you start to blog?

When I first read about blogging in 1999, I was keen on starting a blog for those over 50 years of age, being in that age group myself. I wrote to a newspaper about it, hoping to get positive feedback. My letter was published but there was no response at all! I guess most seniors in those days were not internet-savvy yet. Now, almost 10 years on, I believe the time is right to start a blog for seniors.

In 2007, a friend, who was already a blogger, invited me to an internet marketing seminar. I started a trial blog in order to apply what I had learned. SeniorsAloud is my second blog. The first article was posted on May 10, 2008, just three months ago. So it’s quite new, but the response this time around is much more encouraging. As the word gets out, I’m sure the blog will receive even more visitors.

What were your reasons?

It’s a known fact that many countries, including Malaysia, are seeing an ageing population. The average life span has increased. For males and females, it’s 73 and 76 respectively. In 2007, according to statistics from the National Population and Family Development Board (LPPKN), the elderly, or those who have touched 60, make up seven per cent of the population. There are issues concerning the elderly that need to be addressed, like health care, financial management, and housing.

There are also more seniors now with access to the internet and thus a blog would be a great avenue to reach out to these seniors, while also encouraging those who are apprehensive about the internet to take the first baby steps into this whole new realm. It literally opens up a new world, and even those seniors who are housebound can still have an active social and intellectual life via the internet.

On a personal level, I know of retirees who have difficulty adjusting to a life without a 9-5 job. They feel a tremendous loss of self-esteem. Some have lost their spouse and feel lonely and depressed.

SeniorsAloud is intended to be a community-based blog where seniors and retirees can network and share their rich life experiences. It is also a channel for them to speak out on issues that affect them, whether it is the lack of elderly-friendly public facilities, or the discrimination leveled at them. It takes a senior to understand another senior and provide moral support for one another.

What have you achieved through blogging?

The blog is only three months old, so it’s still too early to talk about achievements. But to date, the feedback has been very encouraging. "Inspiring" is the word visitors often used after reading the posts. One visitor in her 30s wrote in an email that the post about "Grandparenting – A Pleasure or Pressure?" helped her to better understand her parents.

Any regrets?

I’ve always wanted to give something back to society. SeniorsAloud is the perfect vehicle for me to accomplish this. I can blog at home and still keep an eye on my grandchildren and my elderly mother. And the best thing is that it’s free! So there’s absolutely nothing to regret. Of course, blogging can be quite time-consuming, but I enjoy the challenge of keeping the blog current.

Has blogging changed your life?

I now carry my camera everywhere I go. I’ve learned to be bold in approaching people and telling them about my blog. You can say blogging has given me new confidence and a new direction in life. Through it, I’ve been fortunate to connect with many seniors who have been most supportive in contributing to the blog content.

The "Blogosphere". What does it mean to you?

The Blogosphere adds a whole new dimension to information gathering – almost anything and everything under the sun probably has been the subject of a blog. That said, one of the challenges of the internet, including blogs, is to sift through all the information out there – sometimes there is an information overload. Nonetheless, it’s always better to have too many options than none at all!

Favourite blogger?

I’ve got several bookmarked under "Favourites", so I won’t commit to singling out any particular one. It’d be like asking me who is my absolute favourite among all my grandchildren. I love them all.

If there were someone you could influence to blog. who would they be?

Definitely all those above 50! This is the fastest growing age group on the Internet, but certainly not in Malaysia. I still meet a lot of seniors who say they are too old to pick up computer skills, or they are simply not interested. Blogging is fun, mentally stimulating and who knows, it may help ward off Alzheimer’s!

When I’m in my 80s or 90s, provided I don’t have arthritis in my fingers, I intend to carry on blogging. I’ll take blogging anytime over knitting in a rocking chair!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012


Photo: Straits Times
Did you know that 14 February is not only Valentine's Day but also World Marriage Day? The actual date is the second Sunday of February, but today Tuesday is just as good as any day for happily married couples to celebrate their years together. In Singapore 50 married couples participated in a 5-minute "Freeze Flash Mob" with the theme "Love in the City". Hats off to these couples for publicly reaffirming their love for each other.

Here's one of my favourite Beatles song to sing to your other half to mark this day. Enjoy!

Depending on who is marking the day, 14 February is also Singles Awareness Day. "When you are a couple, Valentine's Day is one of the most exciting days of the year. When you are single, you sometimes want to throw things at those happy couples," writes Kira Sabin. Read more about the singles' survival guide to Valentine's Day.

To all happily married couples and happy singles, HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY! More singalong with this video.

Monday, February 13, 2012


For more on the activities during Social Media Week, click here.

Today was Day 1 of the World Bloggers and Social Media Summit 2012 at PWTC. Learned a lot that I am eager to apply, and made some new friends. Social media is still pretty much dominated by Generation Y. Here's a video that was shared at one of the panel discussions.

The social media revolution is happening all around us. Like it or not, it is here to stay. Resistance is futile. When your adult children and your grandchildren all have Twitter, Facebook and Skype accounts, and you don't, you will be missing out on all the shared news, photos and videos, especially from family members overseas.

And if you own a business, it's imperative that you learn to harness the extensive reach of social media to promote and market your product. The survival and success of your business depends on it.

We are never too old to change and learn new ways of doing things.

Saturday, February 11, 2012


Eric Johansson. Who? He's the Photoshop wiz kid behind all those incredibly realistic photo images that were circulating on the internet last year.

Digital photography has become increasingly popular with retirees. Many of my retired friends have taken up the hobby seriously. They attend classes, and think nothing of spending thousands of ringgit on cameras and photography equipment.

If you would like to know how Eric produces these absolutely awesome photos, watch this TED Talk video. You can also visit Eric's photo gallery to view his portfolio. You will be completely bowled over by his work. To quote Eric, "All the tools are out there, the only thing limiting us is our imagination." So true!

And while on the subject of imagination and creativity, here's another video that explains why our public schools (not just those in the US) are "killing creativity".

If it's been a long time since you had a peek into a typical Malaysian classroom, be my guest:

A class of students in passive learning mode. A picture of UTTER BOREDOM that's stifling creativity. Not the kind of environment that would produce a Steve Jobs or an Eric Johansson.
Parents (and grandparents) will have to take an active interest in what goes on in our schools to ensure that our education system does not kill the natural creativity in our children. When you have a curriculum that does not engage the children, and teachers that do not inspire or motivate them to think and be creative, we will have a future generation of robots who will be running the economy and the country. What a frightful thought!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Queen Elizabeth II - a lifetime on the throne

If you grew up in the 1950s, you would remember Queen Elizabeth II's coronation in 1952. As Malaya was still under British rule at the time, the occasion was marked with celebrations in my hometown of Batu Pahat. Up till 1957 when Malaya gained independence, QE's portrait would grace our classrooms and all the government buildings.

Queen E, 86, and Prince Philip, 90
attending a church service on 6 Feb.
Now at age 86, QE is entering her 61st year on the throne. 6 February marked her diamond jubilee. It was celebrated with all the pomp and pageantry deserving of a much-loved monarch. Looking at her latest pictures, one just has to marvel at how gracefully she has aged over the years. I can't help comparing her with my mom. Both women are the same age. While my mom is beginning to show signs of physical frailty and Alzheimer's, QE spent the auspicious day meeting her people and visiting a primary school and a kindergarten. Videos of her show her walking unaided, with 90-year old Prince Philip a step behind her, still looking handsome and regal.

Official photo of the royal couple to mark the diamond jubilee.

A fresh face, young princess at 19. Photo taken in 1945. Ah, we were all young and pretty once upon a time!

King George VI with Princess Elizabeth, Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret,
at Windsor Castle July 8, 1946

All photos from the Daily Mail. To view more photos and read the reports, go to

Official website of the British Monarchy at

Tuesday, February 7, 2012


For this blog post, I have selected to address an issue that many of us seniors here in Malaysia and Singapore are familiar with - a reluctance to ask our doctors for more information even when we want to know more.

Perhaps it's to do with our Asian culture of keeping quiet especially when in the presence of someone of authority like doctors. We put doctors on a high pedestal. We kow-tow to them. So who are we to ask for more information or question them? They are busy people with little time to listen to us. Besides, we don't want to show our ignorance with our questions or that we have some fears and doubts to raise about our medical condition. 

Most times we don't quite understand their explanations or instructions, or we forget much of the details as soon as we leave the consultation room. 

And so we let pass the opportunity to ask questions while in the doctor's room, only to go home and berate ourselves for not asking what all these prescription drugs are for, if it's okay to take them together with traditional medicines, or what the side effects are, if any. We call up the clinic. We would be lucky if our call gets through. And if it does, chances are the nurse will inform us the doctor is with a patient and can't take our call.

So the next time you see your doctor, bring up any questions that are troubling you. Write them down so you won't forget. Better communication between you and your doctor leads to better care for you. 

Here are the 10 questions you might want to ask your doctor. The list is by no means exhaustive. 

1. What is the cause of my illness?
2. What is the test for?
3. When will I get the results?
4. Why do I need this treatment?\
5. What can happen if I don't take this treatment?
6. Are there any alternatives?
7. What are the possible complications?
8. Are there any side effects of the medication?
9. Will this medicine interact with medicines that I'm already taking?
10. Are cheaper options available?

Do watch this 7-minute video above that features patients and clinicians discussing the importance of asking questions and sharing information.  

Monday, February 6, 2012


Me, my mom, my elder daughter and my
mom's four great-grandkids at Dementia
Homecare Centre during a recent CNY visit,
When the doctor told me last March that my mother had dementia, the news wasn't exactly a shock. My mother had become increasingly forgetful over the past months, and acting peculiar. Initially I put it down as part of ageing. After all, she was 85 at the time. Moreover, she could answer all three questions I asked her. This was a tip from my neighbour, a retired registered nurse. If my mom could give her age, full name and the names of all her children, she was okay.

My mom passed this simple test, and so I let the matter rest. Everything changed after she fell and broke her hip on 6 March 2011. During her 10-day stay at the hospital after the hip surgery, the doctors and nurses noticed signs of dementia in my mother. One of her doctors recommended that she see a geriatrician. To cut the story short, Dr Philip Poi of UMSC confirmed my mom had dementia.

My mother was subjected to several tests. One of them was the clock test. It's simple and can be done at home. If you suspect your elderly parent might have AD, ask him to draw a clock and fill in all the numbers. You may be surprised at the result.

If you have noticed certain signs of absent-mindedness, but you are not quite sure of these are early signs of Alzheimer's, you can take this test below. A ‘yes’ is given a score of one or two and a ‘no’ always scores zero, giving a maximum possible score of 27.

A score of less than five suggests there is no cause for concern, five to 14 suggests mild cognitive impairment or early stages of Alzheimer's, and a score higher than 14 could denote the person may already have AD.

21-question test for Alzheimer's. Click on Daily Mail for a bigger and clearer image.

By the way, what's the difference between dementia and Alzheimer's Disease? Dementia refers to symptoms of forgetfulness that may impact a person's daily functioning (see table above). AD is a specific type of dementia. It is the most common and affects mainly people aged 65 and above.

In my mom's case, she was constantly checking the calendar and the clock, wandering around the house even in the middle of the night and repeating stories umpteen times to the extent I had to rescue whoever she happened to be chatting with. She couldn't remember if she had taken her pills, showered or washed her hair. She forgot where she kept her things and often blamed the maid for stealing them. Fortunately the maid took her accusations as a symptom of dementia. These were some of the changes I noticed in my mom as her dementia progressed.

AD is incurable. But there are ways to slow down the advance. Do a Google or Youtube search, and you will be inundated by the number of links and videos that show up. The challenge is finding the most reliable recommendation. I can only share what the doctors have recommended for my mother.

You can check out the daycare centre where my mom spent three months last year at the link below. Lots of pictures of the place. If you have a loved one who has dementia, I highly recommend this centre in PJ. It is in Section 11, across the road from Universiti Hospital. Email me at if you want to know more about the facilities and the caregiving services there.

The centre is holding a talk by a caregiver this Saturday at its premises. It is a good opportunity to learn more about dementia and AD, and also check out the place.

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Saturday, February 4, 2012


The special report in Saturday's Straits Times is of interest to retirees. The report which spreads over eight broadsheet pages centres on retirement living, and gives readers an insight into the advances made in retirement living in the Netherlands, the US and the UK.

Watching telly (or dozing off) in an.old folks home.
The very mention of retirement homes here in Malaysia and Singapore invariably conjures up a picture of an old bungalow cramped with elderly people in various stages of mental decline and physical decrepitude, and requiring nursing care. Certainly there are old folks homes, welfare homes, nursing homes and hospices, each offering different services, and each catering to a different group of people.

However, the distinction must be made between these establishments and retirement homes. The latter, as these pictures below show (taken by Radha Basu of Straits Times), are for retirees who are still active and independent. It is an example of communal living with all the comforts of home.

GROUP LUNCH: Residents in Hampstead House, an Abbeyfield Society home, tucking into a meal prepared by an in-house cook.
In a small home outside Rotterdam. Nothing beats having your own room
surrounded by your favourite things. (Photo: Radha Basu of Straits Times)

In the communal living room. The cosy ambience makes group homes in the Netherlands feel just like home. (Photo: Radha Basu of Straits Times)
Residents at Humanitas facilities enjoy amenities such as a hair salon, gym and supermarket. They can also take part in 40 different activities spread out across the week. (Photo: Straits Times)

For a myriad of personal reasons, there are elderly parents who would rather live on their own than move in with their adult children. But living on their own at that age puts them at risk. What if something happens to them?

Communal living offers the ideal solution. It can be in an apartment block, in a housing enclave, or in a huge bungalow. The residents enjoy the comfort and privacy of their own room. And if they want some company, there are friends in the next room or on the same floor. There are activities to keep them engaged, if they are interested. Or they can choose to go out alone or with friends. They have the freedom to come and go, to mingle with others or be left alone.

Putrajaya is an ideal location for a retirement home.
But getting the land for it is an impossible dream.
Sure, retirement living such as the above comes with a certain price tag. Not everyone can afford it. But an increasing number of baby boomers now in their 60s, have enough put aside to invest in spending the rest of their days in a retirement home.

Unfortunately, housing developers in Singapore and Malaysia are hesitant about investing billions in such ventures. They still hold to the view that Asian culture and values do not encourage such living arrangements, and therefore, there is no market for such independent housing for the elderly.

So the wait for a retirement home here continues...

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A Retirement Home Or A Retirement Village?

Housing Options for the Retirement Years