Tuesday, June 19, 2018

WHEN ADULT CHILDREN ABUSE THEIR ELDERLY PARENTS


How many of us are guilty of elder abuse? If the truth be told, all of us would admit to some degree of guilt. We shudder with horror and disbelief when we read in the papers about caregivers in nursing homes physically abusing the elderly residents in their care.

We cannot fathom how anyone could cause pain and injury to frail and defenseless old people. We would never do anything like that to hurt the very people we are supposed to look after and care for.


But elder abuse is not just physical. It encompasses financial and psychological abuse as well. Guess who are guilty of such abuse? Who are the usual suspects? The answer - adult children.

When adult children exploit their elderly parents for their own financial gains, that's abuse too. Examples include compelling their parents to prematurely sign over ownership of the family property to them, or transferring shares to their names.

For whatever reasons, these children can't wait to inherit from their parents. That would take too long. I know of cases where elderly parents have been evicted from their own home by their children. Money over-rules blood ties.

Perhaps the most common abuse is emotional and psychological. Most of the time we are not even aware that we have hurt the feelings of our elderly parents. In moments of stress, anger or frustration , we lose our patience with them. We chide them, belittle them, even threaten them with the possibility of packing them off to an old folks home.

If we do not want our children to treat us this way, then we should not treat our aged parents this way. Let us set a good example by according our parents and all elderly the respect they deserve. We exist because of them. We are who we are today because of them. We owe them a lifetime of gratitude and love.

Last Sunday, we celebrated Father's Day. It is a timely reminder that while we celebrate with joy Father's Day and Mother's Day, we should also remember to honor our parents in their old age, and treat them with respect and dignity.

Filial Piety is becoming rare these days. Countries such as Singapore and India have implemented the Maintenance of Parents Act whereby parents can report their adult children to a tribunal for failure to provide financial support and care. When adult children face problems in their business or marriage, it is easy to take out their frustrations on their elderly parents who are vulnerable and unable to stand up for themselves. Life becomes unbearable for their elderly parents. It is no wonder many say they prefer to die than suffer at the hands of their own children.

One day, it will be our turn to experience old age. Will we fall victim to elder abuse? Not if we raise awareness of this despicable social disease, not if we raise our children to respect our elders. We can be good examples by showing our children how we care for our parents.



Sunday, April 1, 2018

IS QING MING A DYING TRADITION?


I grew up barely knowing my father. I only saw him during weekends. But every year when Qing Ming comes around, I am reminded of him. I was nine when he passed away. For many years after his demise, I dutifully joined the family to pay our respects at his graveside during Qing Ming. But when I left to further my studies, and especially after I moved to KL in 1971, those annual visits became fewer and fewer, and eventually they ceased altogether. (Photo source: Straits Times)

My father's grave is still there in the Chinese cemetary outside the small town of Bakri on the outskirts of Muar. It is marked by a tombstone with his portrait and name in Chinese characters on it. My brother Henry and his wife have faithfully continued with the visits during Qing Ming, and I plan to join them on their next visit. My other siblings have converted to Christianity and they prefer to remember Father in their own way.

This year Qing Ming falls on 5 April. Thousands of Chinese Malaysians and Singaporeans who practise ancestral worship will observe this day by making the annual visit to the burial grounds of their dearly-departed kin. It is a mark of filial piety to pay their respects to their ancestors with prayers and offerings of food. Family members also take the opportunity to spruce up the burial area. This explains why Qing Ming is also referred to as "Tombsweeping Day".

Perhaps most fascinating of the Qing Ming rituals is the burning of papier mache offerings. Over the years, these paper mache offerings have changed in keeping with the trends. I recall decades ago witnessing the burning of this huge paper replica of a mansion. The patriach of a family supermarket in my neighbourhood had passed away at a ripe old age. His children wanted to make sure their father would live in luxury in his after life.

A papier mache mansion all ready to be burnt as an offering to the deceased.
At the time as I was watching the 'mansion' make its way up in smoke to the other world, I thought about my father. He was in his late 30s when he passed away in 1957. I remember my grandma made sure we burnt offerings of paper money - lots of it, in silver and gold, also replicas of his favorite clothes, food and his reading glasses. She wanted to make sure my dad would be comfortable and would always have money to spend in the other world. He was her only son.

Today, being well-provided for takes on a new definition. It is no longer about sending necessities to the beloved deceased. The trend now is to go for paper replicas of luxury items like an iPad, LV bags, jade and gold jewelry, a BMW, and even a yacht! Apparently the rituals at some burial sites have taken on a modern flavour, with dancing girls as shown in the image below forwarded by a friend.


I was in Chinatown, Petaling Street a few weeks ago hoping to find that little shop which used to make paper offerings for Qing Ming. It was no longer there. In fact, it had closed down many years ago. Not surprising. Making paper offerings for the departed is a dying craft, literally.

With the younger generation losing interest in the old ways, Chinese traditions and customs will soon disappear into the history books. There might come a day when Qing Ming will no longer be observed if Chinese parents of today do not pass it down to their children.

In land scarce Singapore, for example, land has become such a premium that the government has taken back cemetary land for redevelopment. Graves have been exhumed and the affected families notified well in advance. Today only the Choa Chu Kang cemetary is left. Columbariums will soon meet a similar fate as more families opt for the ashes of their dearly beloved to be scattered at sea or in flower beds as in green burials. Graveyards as we know them will be a thing of the past.

Whether that is a sad thing or not is debatable, I suppose. The dead must give way to the living, and the living find new ways to remember the dead, as in converting ashes to wearables e.g. rings, pendants or decorative items. Life must go on. But the memory of loved ones who have left us will remain in our hearts.

Thursday, March 1, 2018

LIVING A FULFILLING LIFE


In February 2017 I gave a talk at the launch of The Senior magazine at Petrosains KLCC. I was then the editor of the magazine. It was my second time speaking at the venue. The first was on the topic 'Staying Relevant in the Digital Age', and the second was on 'Active Living for Seniors'. The Facebook memory I received this morning (March 1, 2018) reminded me of the talk. So I am sharing the slides here for those who missed the talk.


Here's the first slide (above), and a question for the readers - Do you agree retirement is the best time to enjoy life? I can almost hear the YES and NO.

The response would depend very much on whether we have laid the foundation for a successful retirement. If the roots of a sapling do not get enough of the right nutrients, the sapling will not grow into a strong and sturdy tree that will withstand the vagaries of the weather.


Likewise, for our retirement years to be truly golden, we must ensure these six pillars (roots) are firm enough to buttress us against the challenges of our later years. The six pillars: good health, financial security, strong relationships with our family and friends, community service, a belief system to keep us grounded, and lifelong learning to help us grow and improve.


If we do not have all six pillars in place, or if some of these pillars are weak, we need to shore them up. Insufficient savings? Work on a plan to generate some income or cut back on spending. Too old to do the things we have always wanted to do? Says who? Age is just a number that Father Time has given us. It does not define who we are, or what we want to be. We are the drivers controling the steering wheel of our lives.


Retire from work, but do not retire from life. Live life to the fullest or see it pass us by. The march of time seems merciless as we enter our later years. It is as if the countdown had begun as soon as we hit our 70s, never mind the research studies that show longevity is on the rise as evident in a new demographic category of super-centenarians worldwide - those aged 100 and above. Do we want to make each moment count, and fill it with happy experiences? Or do we want to withdraw from family, friends and the world outside, and fill our days with regret and remorse, and all the bitterness of a life that could have been otherwise. What a sheer waste of precious moments as the clock ticks away the minutes.


So get rid of the doldrums and go out. Feel the sunshine and the breeze on your skin. Take time to smell the roses, play with your grandchildren. Recharge. Be grateful that you can get up in the morning to greet another new day. Growing old is a privilege not everyone gets to experience.


Have fun, travel, explore, discover. This is the time to spend on yourself. Be selfish. The above photo is one of my all-time favorites taken at Gardens by the Bay, Singapore in May 2015. A total of 40 members from SeniorsAloud and U3A (KL and Sgor) went on this 3D2N trip. There was so much to see, do and learn. A truly diverse group of Malaysian seniors spending a fun weekend together.


No need for us to look across the oceans for an inspiring role model of graceful ageing. Right here on our shores we have our former PM's wife, YB Toh Puan Dr Siti Hasmah, 92 now, to show us how we should live life in our retirement years. We are never too old to pick up new skills. All it takes is a change of mindset and attitude. The world is our oyster if we let it be.


One of the biggest fears of growing old is loneliness and abandonment. This comes from the perception that older people are useless and unproductive. Harbouring such thoughts and feelings can lead to depression, and in some cases, to suicidal tendencies in the elderly. The best way to dispel such negative thoughts and pessimism is to be active. An idle mind is the devil's workshop, right? Join a seniors club or volunteer with an NGO that resonates with you. For a start, why not sign up for courses with University of the Third Age (U3A)? Not only will you widen your circle of friends, you will also enjoy the fun of learning new skills with your peers in a non-threatening environment, without the stress of exams and assignments!


The ladies above signed up for U3A acrylic painting course as beginners. They soon discovered they had a flair for painting. The result - an acrylic art exhibition of their masterpieces held in Putrajaya. Goes to show that we are never too old to learn new skills, never too late to unearth our potential. Think of the sense of pride and achievement these ladies must have felt. We can all be like them. Take the initiative to explore new horizons. Be fearless. Never let our age stop us from trying new things that interest us.


When we spend our retirement years living a sedentary lifestyle, our muscles will soon atrophy. We will start complaining of aches and pains all over. And before we even reach our 70s, we have become dependent on all kinds of aids, from walking aids to hearing aids and every other aid in between. It's time to get up from our armchair and exercise. Don't fancy exercising on your own? Round up some friends for a qigong session, or join a group like Mrs Jagjeet's Nordic Walkers.


There are also groups that organize hiking-camping-cycling trips. Take your pick. Go google, or search Facebook to find out where these groups meet and how you can join them. Making resolutions to lose weight, eat well and exercise regularly produces no results, if they remain as resolutions. Translate your resolutions and good intentions into action to see results.


Nothing like spending time outdoors in the early mornings or late evenings doing exercises to keep fit. Above are some members of Malaysian Healthy Ageing Society (MHAS) brisk walking in Taman Jaya park a few Sundays ago. In another section of the park was a group of old friends enjoying a quiet board game. Good friends provide a strong support system in our old age. Cherish their friendship.


Don't fancy the physical demands of hiking or cycling? Take up gardening like SeniorsAloud member Keats (above). Mowing the grass, raking dry leaves, carrying flower pots and weeding all help to strengthen our muscles and improve our flexibility. There's also the added joy of eating the fruits of your hard work if you have a garden of fruits, herbs or vegetables. Urban farming is gaining popularity among city residents. U3A offers short courses on hydroponics, kitchen garden and mushroom cultivation in some semesters.


Not only should we take care of our physical health, but also our mental health. Use it or lose it applies to our brain as well. Board games are great as mental exercises, so are doing crossword puzzles, sudoku and playing mahjong. All these help us to maintain our mental acuity and hopefully keep Alzheimer's at bay. Above are members of SeniorsAloud enjoying a mentally stimulating game of Math Magic. The board game was invented by Malaysian Jimmy Yeoh.


The ladies of senior citizens clubs love to dance. We just wish the guys shared the same interest. No matter, as long as the ladies are having fun, the guys are content to sit and watch. Dancing is an enjoyable way to exercise the body. It is liberating as well. The above photo was taken at SeniorsAloud's 'Golden Memories' dinner and dance in 2015. Our 10th anniversary dinner is coming up in October. Do join us to celebrate this milestone.


Passion and Compassion - these two values have been at the core of SeniorsAloud's existence from its very beginning in May 2008. Working hard to extend SeniorsAloud's reach and promote an active lifestyle for seniors has been my passion since I retired in 2004. I am blessed to have a dedicated team of volunteers to support me for our events and projects. Our passion spills over into compassion for others that need a helping hand. We believe firmly that volunteerism adds meaning and purpose to life. There are so many ways we can contribute to community service. Just find the one you are comfortable with, and that works best for you.


For SeniorsAloud we have chosen to help by setting up a small initiative to look into appeals for assistance from the elderly or from NGOs that serve the elderly. Above are some of our past community service efforts made possible with funds raised at our annual dinners. Consider joining our SeniorsAloud Volunteer Group (SVG). Alone we can do only so much, but together we can do more.


Given the platform to speak on active ageing to an audience of senior citizens, I could not pass up the opportunity to promote SeniorsAloud and U3A at the launch. These are probably the most active senior citizens groups on social media in Malaysia. So it should be easy for anyone interested to get in touch with SeniorsAloud or U3A to join their activities. Just google. By the way, U3A semester 2018 starts soon. Registration Day is Sat 3 March 2018. Course enrolment is on a first come basis.


The above are the slides from my 30-min talk, with notes added. If you would like to know more about any of the groups or activities mentioned here, contact SeniorsAloud at info@seniorsaloud.com. We are committed to promoting active living for senior citizens, and will put you in touch with the relevant people in charge of these groups.

(This article has been updated from the original posted on Feb 28, 2017.)

Thursday, January 11, 2018

THE DOWNSIDE OF GROWING OLD...BUT WHY DWELL ON IT?


Old people love to complain. They are never satisfied with anything. True or false? The answer is probably True. But they do have valid reasons for their grouses.

Let's put ourselves in the shoes of an 80+ old man. He has limited funds so he complains about soaring prices and GST. He recalls the old days when a cup of kopitiam coffee cost only 40 cents. Now it's RM1.80 at the mamak stall. The reason why you don't see many old people at Starbucks - it pains them to spend RM10 on a cup of coffee!

There was a time when he could travel and enjoy an active social life. These days he is mostly at home, unable to venture out alone because he no longer drives and there's no one free to take him out. His perennially-busy adult children have little time for him.

Once upon a time he lived to eat. Now he eats to live. His diet is restricted to low fat, less sugar and salt-free foods. How bland! No more spicy, oily deep-fried hawker food for him, no more culinary indulgences, all because he has a host of health problems.

His old hobbies no longer interest him. He doesn't read much because of poor vision. He has little interest in watching tv as the programs don't appeal to him. He misses the songs and movies of the 50s and 60s. He can't enjoy the videos on YouTube or listen to TEDtalks as he is computer-illiterate, and refuses to learn.

As a young man, he was blessed with good health and vitality. Now the passage of time has reduced him to a frail shadow of his former self, with all the accompanying aches and pain of old age. He wakes up in the morning, and wonders how to pass the long hours ahead.


Few friends drop by to see him, as they are in the same boat as he is, or have passed away. So he sits in his arm-chair or lies in bed the whole day long with only his memories to keep him company.

It is no wonder old people are bitter and grouchy. They have all the time in the world to gripe about everything under the sun, from high prices to corrupt politicians, and 1001 things in between. Such unpleasant company to be in.

What a horrible way to grow old!

It is the same with old women too. They still complain but much less than their husband. The big difference is they have more to keep them busy like helping with the grandchildren, doing community work or taking up some short courses. Maybe that's why they live longer. (Men, take note. Find something to keep you happily occupied.)

We can't stop growing old, but we can certainly choose how we want to grow old. It's all about attitude.


We can choose to grow old complaining about things from A to Z. Or we can choose to focus our attention on the things that make us happy, like our grandchildren, like being able to look back at happy times with fondness, and not compare them with the present just to complain. 'The past is a place of reference, The past is not a place of residence.' Move on. The present is where we are - make the most of it.

There is little point in harping on things that can't be changed. We should learn to accept whatever unfortunate circumstances we are dealt with and make the best of the situation. We can make our lives worth living.


The above is an updated version of an earlier article I wrote in 2012. I am reposting it in response to Betty White's quote in the Straits Times today (11 Jan 2018). She turns 95 this year. It is a timely reminder to look at life on the bright side. Negative feelings and thoughts can fester and lower our immune system against diseases. It drains us of our energy to keep dwelling on our pains and aches, fears and regrets. Besides, no one wants to be in the company of grouchy old people, not even their grandchildren, right?

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

HOW SHOULD WE REFER TO OLDER ADULTS?

Would older adults accept being addressed as 'perennials'? 

When I started this blog in May 2008, I had several names in mind for the blog. Unfortunately all of them were already taken. I must have tried at least 20 names in total, with the same result each time - 'not available'. In frustration I gave it one final go with 'SeniorsAloud'. The name had popped into my mind at that last minute. To my surprise, it was accepted.

Both my daughters didn't like the name at all. They probably felt that with a name like SeniorsAloud, the blog would interest only old people. Of course, I went on the defensive. What did they mean by 'old'? I was about to turn 60 at the time, and didn't feel at all a day over 40. Neither was I frail, and definitely nowhere close to being senile.

Let me ask my readers, does the word 'senior' have a negative connotation? What sort of image springs to mind at the mention of 'senior citizen'? I have good friends who would cringe with horror at being referred to as one, even though they are 60+ and retired. To them, that's as good as sounding the death knell!

The problem with labels is they are generic. 'Old' people are painted with the same brush, and in the same grey colour. But there are so many different shades and hues of grey. If the 50+ and 60+ are not quite ready to be called old, how then would you address them? The 'young old'? That doesn't work either. And are the 70+ the 'old old'? These are terms used by researchers in social sciences and gerontology. What other terms of reference do we have? The pre-war and post war generations? Baby Boomers? Equally cumbersome and inadequate. (Photo: My cousins - no way would anyone in their right mind call them 'elderly'! Henry is about the coolest dad I know, and Siew Kin is one fabulously gorgeous mom, inside out. Both are in their early 60s at the time of writing.)

People are living longer so new age categories are needed. I am now considered 'middle-aged'.
Quite often the media is guilty of mislabeling. "Elderly man victim of snatch thief", says one headline. You read the news report and find that the victim was aged 63. I am turning 70 soon. I can deal with being called a senior citizen as that is what I am. But 'elderly'? Not by a mile. But young reporters are incapable of making that age distinction. To someone in their 20s, 63 is practically ancient.

So until we come up with age appropriate labels, I suppose baby boomers like us will have to forgive the young for addressing us as 'old' and 'elderly'.

I'm glad I stuck with the name "Seniorsaloud" for this blog. It has garnered a readership that is steadily growing. It has caught the attention of certain policy-makers on ageing issues in Singapore and Malaysia. It has been mentioned in the local media on several occasions. Some of the articles have been published in reputable magazines. Some years back, I received an email from a program producer at CNN asking for my views on a seniors-related topic. That was a real morale booster!

My SeniorsAloud card which I refer to as my 'passion card', rather than my business or name card.

All those hours of writing and researching are finally paying off in terms of recognition. Now we are hoping some big corporations would step in and sponsor a Seniorsaloud event. That would be taking Seniorsaloud to the next level where it can harness the expertise and experience of retirees for projects that would benefit the community of senior citizens. Seniorsaloud has no shortage of ideas to achieve this objective, and we welcome collaborations with organisations and companies to promote active, healthy living for seniors.

Here's what Prof Laura Carstensen of Stanford University's Centre on Longevity says about the term 'perennials' for older people.


Click HERE to read the full article (Straits Times 2 Jan, 2018)

"Perennials make clear that we are still here, blossoming again and again. It also suggests a new model of life in which people engage and take breaks, making new starts repeatedly. Perennials aren't guaranteed to blossom year after year, but given proper conditions, good soil and nutrients, they can go on for decades."

I personally like 'perennials'.  It has a youthful, forever-spring feel to it. But I am not too sure if the word will gain wide acceptance. What do readers think?

(Postscript: The above is an updated version of an article first posted in April 2011. An edited version was subsequently published in the Star.)