Friday, January 23, 2015


There are several lessons we can take away from the movie "The Theory of Everything". I watched it two weeks ago and found it very inspiring on many levels. I know I will never pick up Stephen Hawking's international bestseller "A Brief History of Time". I am just not that cerebral, nor into science or maths. You won't catch me reading "A Briefer History of Time" either, or "The Universe in a Nutshell". I would probably find them too intellectually challenging to digest. Nope, for me, nothing like an Oscar-nominated movie to get me all fired up to learn more about Stephen Hawking, reputed to possess the greatest mind on earth.

Here's what I took away from the movie, and from my googling about Stephen Hawking, the man, the husband and the father, NOT so much about Stephen Hawking, the cosmotologist.

1. Never give up 

Hawking's doctors gave him two to three years to live after he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), a motor neuron disease, at the age of 21. He was then studying at the University of Cambridge. Today, he is still around and just celebrated his 73rd birthday on 8 January, 2015.

How long we live is not solely the doctor's decision, but also up to us (our lifestyle which is within our control) and God.

2. Knowledge is limitless

There is no such thing as "Been there, done that" or "You can't teach Grandma to suck eggs". Many older folks don't take well to advice or suggestions to learn new skills. They consider themselves already experienced and knowledgeable.

Lifelong learning is a journey that ends only with our last breath.

3. Celebrate life. Be thankful that we can wake up every morning to greet another new day.

Despite Hawking's physical limitations which could have easily driven a lesser man to bitterness and despair, Hawking maintained his sense of humor and was able to see the lighter side of some of his predicaments as when he lost the ability to speak and had to use first the spelling cards and later the speech synthesizer to communicate. In all his interviews, his wit and sense of humour is evident in his responses to the questions asked.

The ability to laugh and to look on the bright side helps to ward off self-pity and bitterness.

With first wife Jane in 1960s, and second wife Elaine Jason at their wedding in Sept 1995. Source: Daily Mail

4. Stay young-at-heart

Hawking never allowed ALS to rob him of the joy of being a parent. He had three children with his first wife Jane. He was close to all of them, and would often join them in their games, chasing after them in his motorised wheelchair to the delight of the children.

Having fun and being playful helps us to remain young-at-heart.

Hawking with Jane and their children in 1983. Source: Mirror

5. Never be idle

There is always something we can do and succeed in. Find it, and make it our driving force, our passion. When we enjoy doing something, it is no longer work. Don't just keep the hands busy, keep the mind active too. An idle mind is the devil's workshop. An active mind also helps to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's.

6. Quit being grouchy and grumpy

We know what folks say about old people - we are always finding fault and complaining about this or that. Whether it's the weather, the government, the younger generation, the cost of living, the lack of respect for the elderly, blah, blah blah - we have an endless list of things and people to complain about. How did we turn into such horrible grouches? We have ourselves to blame if others don't enjoy our company.

Smile more, complain less, and see what a difference that makes in our relationship with others.

7. Look beyond our physical limitations

As we age, it is inevitable that we slow down physically. Some of us will face health problems that may lead to a reduced quality of life and increased dependence on others to do things for us. Hawking never let his disabilities hamper his work or his life. He lost the ability to use his limbs, and later the ability to speak. For a professor who was still teaching at Cambridge, it was a huge blow. But he found a way to get around his many setbacks, thanks in part to technology, and to a fierce determination to beat all odds. Believe it or not, Hawking has not retired, and continues to give talks and lectures.

Update: Hawking passed away on 14 March 2018 at age 76.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015


There may come a time when caring for your AD or Dementia afflicted relative at home is no longer feasible. So with great reluctance, anxiety and apprehension you face the inevitable - the need to transfer your loved one to a Nursing Home. Today, an ever increasing number of us face this sad situation owing to the lack of available suitable helpers or family members to care for our aging relatives at home.

To meet this growing need Nursing Homes have become a thriving business and a common feature in most suburbs. Most are established in remodelled existing bungalows rather than in purpose-built facilities. Nearly all have attractive websites promising appealing surroundings and tender loving care.

How then do you choose a Home for your beloved relative? Simple answer – be informed. Disregard the website promises: visit the Homes, observe and investigate. Most importantly, ask the right questions.

Assuming that you are checking out a licensed Home that fits your budget and is easily accessible, the following is a brief list of what to look for, and questions you need to ask the Home Administrator and/or Nurse in Charge before you entrust your relative to any Home.

Staff should not only be qualified and experienced, but also be caring.


Investigate this aspect very carefully as you will be leaving your loved one in their care 24/7. Observe how they interact with residents, whether they address residents with respect and kindness, whether they seem more interested in their phones/iPads or TV rather than attending to residents.

Questions to ask: 
What is staff/resident ratio? How many nurses/carers/helpers? Are nurses and other staff trained for AD/Dementia care? How they are trained? Do they attend ADFM’s or other courses? Do they watch training videos? Are they given handouts/guidelines on how to handle problematic behaviour? Ask to see these guidelines. Ask how they would handle the specific problem behaviour that your relative may have, e.g. wandering, aggression etc. Ask about the Home’s policy regarding use of restraints.

A clean, spacious and airy dorm with enough sunlight coming in. Note the attached bathroom and toilet.


(Indoors): Is it clean? Odour-free? Cheerful? Have a pleasing decor rather than an odd assortment of cheap, worn-out furniture? Are upholstered chairs stained by food, urine etc? Are rooms spacious enough for the number of beds in them? Do all rooms have windows? Are rooms air-conditioned and not gloomy, hot and stuffy? Are there handrails in the hallways and bathrooms? Are there emergency call bells in each bathroom and beside beds? Are residents’ rooms and public areas safe, e.g. no slippery rugs, nothing on top of cupboards? Are there private areas for residents to be in when family and friends visit? Is there a table for residents to work or play at, do art, craft or puzzles, use iPads, play cards, etc?
(Outdoors):  Is there a garden with seating areas and paths for walking or exercise? Is the outdoor area obstacle-free with no open drains, stones and other hazards nearby?

A good nursing home should have a daily programme of activities and a well-planned daily menu.


A necessary feature of any care facility is a range of activities to keep residents active and happy to counteract the inevitable sense of isolation and insecurity they would feel away from their families.

As you are touring the building, notice if the residents appear to be doing something other than sitting on front of a TV. Look for a weekly activity schedule, which should be posted. If it isn’t, ask for one. Is there a games room or even a table for games? A library or even a bookshelf?  Computer work stations? Internet access? Any musical instruments/CD player?

Questions to ask
Are special activities available for those confined to their rooms or wheelchairs? Are volunteers encouraged to visit and/or provide programs? Any excursions, weekend and evening activities? Does the activity calendar reflect the interests of the residents? Ask to see the weekly schedule of activities. Are brain-building or memory-testing games available?

Singing and Bingo are popular activities at dementia care facilities..


One of the first things to note is the overall well-being of residents. Determine if they seem alert and happy, and see if they look clean, well taken care of and properly groomed.

Questions to ask
Does the Home have a doctor on call? Does the doctor make regular visits to check on general health of residents? Are in-house services provided for residents’ hair, beauty and podiatry needs? How are residents’ dental/vision/hearing needs attended to? Are rehabilitation services available, such as occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech therapy or recreational therapy? Do residents get enough morning sun and daily exercise? Does the Home keep a record of the residents’ backgrounds, e.g. their past life; their relatives; their likes/dislikes; what upsets them; what causes/triggers problematic behaviour etc? Ask to see sample record if possible.

Meal time at a nursing home. Photo: Straits Times


Nutrition is a vital part of your loved one’s good health. Nursing Homes are first and foremost a business, so make sure cost-cutting measures do not mean your relative gets sub-standard and poor nutrition. Plan unscheduled visits during mealtimes if possible.

Does the food that is being served look and smell attractive and appetizing? Does the food appear to be nutritionally balanced? Are tables attractively set with proper utensils, cutlery and napkins instead of pieces of a toilet roll? Are residents interacting socially during meals? Are residents who need help being fed with patience and care?

Questions to ask 
Are there options for residents to choose from at mealtime? Ask to see the weekly menu. Does a dietician plan the menus taking into account the special needs of residents? Can relatives eat with their loved one occasionally? Are nutritious snacks available during the day and evening?

Once you have made your decision, stay vigilant. Voice your reservations to the Home Administrator about any indifference, inattentiveness, and lack of proper care of your loved one that you notice. Make sure your concerns are attended to. Here’s what a former US Nursing Home administrator says,

“There are good and bad administrators. What do I mean by “bad”? They listen with a smile as residents and families complain — then do nothing because they don’t want to make waves with nursing staff and Management. Their job is to simply keep costs down... period.”

Do not leave your beloved relative in the hands of a bad administrator.

(The above article was submitted by guest contributor Renee Tallala. The images were added by the editor.)

Monday, January 5, 2015


(Photo from the researchers: C.Tomasetti, B.Vogelstein; Illustrator: Elizabeth Cook. Source: Johns Hopkins)

At our age, that is, 60s and 70s, we probably know of at least two or more people who have lost their battle against cancer. Everyone fears the big "C". The good news is many types of cancer are no longer terminal if diagnosed and treated early. Still, no one wants to hear a cancer prognosis from their doctor. The mere mention of the word is enough to invoke strong emotions of disbelief and despair in the patient.

I lost one of my aunts to lung cancer a while back. She never smoked in her entire life, but years of living with a chain smoker and inhaling secondary smoke probably contributed to her cancer. Her husband my uncle lived a longer life than she did. The irony of it.

That's a whole lot of smoke being exhaled. Imagine the damage that can do to our lungs over the years. 

We all know people who practise healthy living, meditate daily and faithfully go for regular medical check-ups. Yet they end up with cancer. On the other hand, there are those who break all the rules of clean, healthy living, and still live to a ripe old age, virtually disease-free, and with no major health problems.

Doesn't make sense, does it? It begs the questions - who gets cancer, who doesn't, and who recovers and who doesn't? Does God have a say in this? Or is it karma at work?

Perhaps the answer lies in the latest findings of a research study carried out by Dr B.Vogelstein and C.Tomasetti and published in Science on 1 January 2015.

The researchers: (left) Dr. Bert Vogelstein is professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, co-director of the Ludwig Center at Johns Hopkins and an investigator at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute; (right) Cristian Tomasetti is a biomathematician and assistant professor of oncology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“All cancers are caused by a combination of bad luck, the environment and heredity, and we’ve created a model that may help quantify how much of these three factors contribute to cancer development,” says Dr Vogelstein. (Click HERE to read about the methodology used.)

Bad luck? Hardly a scientific explanation, is it? A convenient answer, but not good enough to satisfy those who ask "Why me?"

According to the researchers, it is possible to mathematically quantify one's cancer risk by plotting the number of times a stem cell divides. The higher the number of divisons, the more likely the cells will mutate into cancer cells. However, they weren't able to include some major forms of cancer, such as breast and prostate cancer, due to a lack of reliable research on the rate of stem cell division in those areas.

Pity, because I have lost more friends and relatives from these two cancers than from other types of cancer.

Sabah snake grass (clinacanthus nutans) - a cure
for cancer? Doctors have warned against taking it. 
While still on the subject of cancer, I owe an explanation to the many well-meaning people who forward to me articles and videos about the latest cures for cancer. They wonder why I do not post the information on SeniorsAloud blog or facebook page to share with others.

I sincerely thank them for their thoughtful gesture, but conventional wisdom tells me since I have no medical background, I am in no position to support any claims of a cancer cure.

What works for one person may not necessarily work for another. I certainly do not want to be guilty of causing anyone to suffer complications arising from my sharing of a particular so-called cancer cure. And they are many such dubious cures on the Internet.

One example is the above. Would I want to share information about this herb that carries a '98%' cure claim? How much do I personally know about the efficacy of this herb? What if someone took the herb and suffered adverse side effects? Would I be held responsible to some extent? Yet articles about miracle cancer cures are popping up everywhere on Facebook.

The point to make is this. Let's do the research before sharing or recommending anything that claims to be good for our health, especially health products and supplements that carry a hefty price tag.

Thursday, January 1, 2015


Glad to see the end of 2014. It has been an "annus horribilis" for many families with all that has happened this year. Our heartfelt condolences and thoughts go out to those who have suffered loss and bereavement.

Despite everything, there's always hope that 2015 will be a much better and brighter year for all of us. HAPPY NEW YEAR!