Friday, June 28, 2019

WEAR OUR AGE WITH PRIDE


I turned 71 today - 28 June, 2019. 

When each birthday comes around, we get well-meaning reminders of how quickly the years have rolled by. It's not just the number of big and small candles that announce our age on the celebratory cake, but also the family members that gather around us for the all-important customary birthday photos. Our adult children and our grandchildren are yet another reminder of our age and of how fast time flies.


My elder daughter celebrated her 50th milestone a month ago. My younger daughter has another two years to reach that same milestone. My grandson will be 19 in August, followed by my three granddaughters at 16, 15 and 13. My youngest grandchild is 5. 


I am reminded of the lyrics from the song 'Sunrise, Sunset' from the movie 'Fiddler on the Roof'. 

Births, weddings and deaths are all part and parcel of life. As we live, so shall we leave - hopefully surrounded by people we love and who love us. 

Let's be proud of our age, whether we are 50 or 80. Never mind if society thinks we are past our prime and over the hill. It's more important what we think of ourselves. If we think we are 'useless', 'unproductive' and a 'burden' to the family and society, then we are. Time for a mindset change. 

I can never understand why women in particular fear this stigma of ageing. Why are they so defensive about disclosing their age? It's funny how those in their 40s and 50s want to keep their age a secret, and those in their 60s want you to guess their age. But once they have reached 70 and beyond, they wear their age with pride like a badge of honour. They will voluntarily tell you their age. And why not? After all, old age is a privilege denied to many. It is a mark of having survived all the ups and downs of life. 

Growing old is natural and inevitable. So why fight it or try to reverse it? That would be like trying to stem the tide. We should look at our wrinkles as life-lines of experience, and our greying hair as threads of wisdom.

Let's not waste precious time wishing we could turn back the clock. Let's not fill our days with regrets, of things we could have done but didn't. Worse, let's not get stuck in that negative mindset with the all-too-familiar refrains of “Old already. Cannot study anymore. Cannot travel anymore. Cannot dance anymore. Cannot chew anymore. Cannot hear well anymore. Cannot wear bright colours anymore. Cannot enjoy romance anymore....” Aiyoh!

And we wonder why young people see us as decrepit old fogies ready to crumble into dust or ashes any minute. That’s how many of us see ourselves too. Is that why we avoid looking at the mirror unless we have our make-up on? A smile works much better than cosmetics - it lifts up our face instantly and pushes back the years.

No need for expensive botox, hair treatment or facelifts. Throw away those anti-ageing, anti-wrinkles cream. Invest in joy, love, forgiveness, gratitude. Eat sensibly. Exercise regularly. Nourish our skin with moisturizers. Smile often. Have a hearty laugh every now and then. Make positive words a part of our daily vocabulary. Think good thoughts. 

Add fun, friends, and fantasy to our lives. Spice it up with a dash of colour and romance. Dance in the rain, sing in the sunshine, enjoy the outdoors, see the world through the eyes of a child eager to discover and learn once more.

We can't stop growing old, but we don't have to BE old. We need to think outside THAT dreaded box or we'll be six feet under sooner than we want.

I can never understand folks who say they don't want to live too long and be a burden to their children. Why not prepare for a happy old age and make it happen? Surely we want to be around to see our grandchildren graduate, get married and start a family? Or simply just be around to see them go through life as we have done before them? And if they need our counsel, we'll be there to provide it. 

As for me, I hope to live to 100 in good health, God willing. Here's a toast to myself - to many more happy birthdays to come. 

(Above photo: The original words were 'My Last Portrait' but I changed it to 'My Best Portrait'. The photo was taken by a photographer who specialises in funeral portraits. He had a charity booth at the Death Festival organised by Xiao En in November 2018.)

Friday, May 24, 2019

DOC, I HAVE A LUMP ON MY LEG (Part 2)


I didn't get the results of the biopsy till my third follow-up visit on 4 May as Dr Chan was on leave. Frankly, on all my visits I was more interested in knowing when I could stop wearing the compression tights than in the biopsy results. When I found out that male patients had worse issues with the tights as they had to adjust their 'jewels' all the time, I felt I should be grateful that my situation was not as bad as theirs - I had no jewels to protect!

I didn't even ask about the biopsy report. Still, it was a relief to know that the lump was benign. However, Dr Chan advised me to get an MRI done every year for the next five years to make sure everything was okay. Attached to the report were some images of the removed lump and the tissues surrounding it. As they are too graphic for public viewing, I shall not post them here.

The first few days when I was back at my daughter and son-in-law's apartment I had to get used to moving around gingerly with the aid of a walking frame. I have always been a fast walker ever since I gave up driving almost 20 years ago. Lots of practice! I had to remind myself to slow down. I also had to get used to taking prescription drugs. For someone who had stopped taking supplements years ago, I now had to take an array of antibiotics, gastric protectors and pain-killers. 


What was more challenging was having to lug around the bottle of post-surgery drainage fluid 24/7. My granddaughter Hana figured out a way to hook it to the walking frame so I could have both hands free for the frame. At night I slept with the bottle beside me. When I woke up I had to make sure the clamps, green vacuum indicator and the green connector were still securely in place, and to note the level of the drainage. The bottle literally became an extension of my body. Imagine my immense relief when Dr Chan removed it on my second follow-up visit on 30 April. 

Having to wear the panty-hose compression tights day and night remained the biggest hassle. My daughter Moon and Heden, our helper, had to assist in helping put them on for me. I had to wear them for at least a month. With the current hot weather, imagine how warm it was to sleep with the tights on. On top of that, the tights made my feet swell and my right knee too. The latter became bulbous and sensitive to the touch. I later learned that this could be due to seroma - fluid that sometimes builds up in the body after surgery. It had probably collected around my right knee. I had a choice of draining the fluid or letting the body absorb it over time. I decided to just let my body do some repair work on my knee.

For the first few days after I was discharged, I only sponged myself. Showering required a bit of acrobatics and flexibility so as not to wet the dressing too much even though it was supposed to be waterproof. Sorry, no photos to show how I managed to shower and wash my hair. It gave me some ideas on how to improve the design of bathrooms to make them more user-friendly for people with physical limitations. Having grab bars or hand rails may not be sufficient.


Unable to venture out for the first three weeks except to see the doctor, the balcony became my favorite place to hang out. I was there at all hours of the day. From the 12th floor, I watched the birds flying by above the tree-tops. I counted the number of cars speeding by below, and watched with envy people jogging by in the evenings, and wondered when I could start brisk walking again. The sunsets were beautiful, so was the sight of the new moon on the first night of Ramadan. The balcony was also where I did my daily push-ups, heel raise exercises and stretches.  


I had brought along a resistance band from KL. Unfortunately it was a tad too short to do much with it. Resistance bands are color-coded according to the degree of tension. They are great for strengthening the bigger muscles in the legs, chest and back. I highly recommend these bands if you don't have weights at home. They are so affordable and easy to bring along when you travel. My mom had hip surgery after a fall in 2011. The physiotherapist at University Malaya Medical Centre (UMMC) had demonstrated some resistance band exercises to me so I could help my mom do them at home. Mom recovered enough muscle strength in her legs to be able to walk with a walking frame after several weeks. She was 85 years old at the time.


My last visit to see Dr Chan was on 18 May. By then the stitches had healed well enough for him to declare 'no further follow-up needed'. Music to my ears! I celebrated immediately with a belated Mother's Day shopping spree at Robinson's, courtesy of Moon. 


If not for the surgery on my leg, I would have been in Yantai, Shandong today, speaking at the 2nd World Senior Tourism Congress 23-25 May 2019, in my capacity as VP of the University of  the Third Age (U3A), KL & Selangor. Moon had advised me to decline the invitation as she said I probably wouldn't have recovered sufficiently by then to travel so far alone. She was right, of course.

There are many things I have learned from this episode of my life, but that will be for another blog article! :-)

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

DOC, I HAVE A LUMP IN MY THIGH (Part 1)


It has been exactly one month since I had a lump removed from my leg. Thank God, it's out. The incision wound is healing nicely, and I am doing fine. Also thank you, friends and SeniorsAloud members, for the concern and wishes for a speedy recovery.

How did all this begin? About three years ago I noticed a pea size lump just below the skin on my inner right thigh. I saw the GP about it and was told it was nothing to worry about. I felt no pain or discomfort, and continued with my usual busy schedule. Sometime during my year-long studies in Singapore, I could feel that the lump had increased in size. Not wanting to disrupt my studies with possible bad news, I decided to let it be till after I graduated in early August 2018.

However, my calendar was so packed with festive celebrations, family events and social engagements that I finally had an MRI done almost eight months later on 21 March 2019 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore. The result was not clear-cut. So the advice was to have the lump removed and sent for a biopsy. By then it had grown to 3cm in size. As I still had a couple of events to see to including a hike at Setia Alam Community Trail on 20 April, I opted to have the surgery on 25 April. The date was later brought forward by the doctor to 22 April.

Below is a pictorial account of my hospital stay. It is more for my personal record, but am sharing it here so that my family and friends have an idea what the entire experience was like. Many of them did not know about my surgery till much later.


On Monday 22 April, Moon helped me to check in at 3.30pm. I had to fast from 10am. Surgery was scheduled for 5.30pm same day. (Above) Here I am relaxing with a book and waiting for the nurses to prepare me for the surgery. The room is spacious and comfortable. I like the sofa which offers more seating for visitors and also doubles up as a bed for overnight company.


As I had showered earlier at home, I used only the toilet. The nurses sponged me in bed the next day after the surgery. The published rates for a single room is $688. It is probably the most expensive room I have ever stayed in, including hotel rooms. And I barely used the room facilities due to limited mobility after the surgery.


(Above) Thumbs up and ready to be wheeled to the operating theater. This would be my third operation so I knew what to expect. I had my gall bladder removed in 1989 at Sentosa Hospital, KL, and part of my liver taken out in 2006 at Gleneagles, Singapore. Orthopedic surgeon Dr Henry Chan had popped in earlier to brief me and to assure me all would be fine, and there was nothing to worry about.

It was winter temperature in the operating theater. Freezing cold. I was told I would be given general anesthesia, so I would not feel a thing at all. The last thing I saw before I blanked out was Dr Chan and his colleague Dr Leon Foo chatting away nearby. It was a calming sight. No urgency. No panic. This was going to be a standard procedure without any complications - hopefully.


When I was wheeled back to my room some hours later, I felt no pain, just some discomfort but was alarmed to see a plastic bottle of what looked like blood hanging by my bedside with a tube that ran right up to my right thigh. It was to drain the after-op discharge/fluid. This was certainly not the usual catheter bag of urine. Belle said it looked more like a bottle of strawberry juice or watermelon juice. Cold comfort!

I was able to enjoy a late dinner after which I had to take the first of my many medications. The night passed uneventfully till the next morning when Dr Chan dropped by to see how I was doing. Great, I said. No pain at all, and I had an appetite. I was told that a physiotherapist would come by later.

(Left) My first meal after the surgery - late dinner. (Right): Lunch the next day. A fairly good selection of meals. Just too much use of cling-wrap to cover each plate, bowl and cup. They forgot my onion soup for dinner and I had to remind them as I love onion soup especially if it's not from a can.


(Above) The four meals I had during my two-day-one-night stay. Breakfast was served quite late at 8.30am compared to the hospitals in KL/PJ where the nurses will wake you up as early as 6am to get you washed and ready for breakfast and for the doctors when they make their rounds.


The physiotherapist came in at 9.40am to show me how to take my first steps with the walking frame. She was super patient and encouraging. Unless you are in a similar situation, you would probably wonder why something as simple and basic as walking requires instructions. I learned how to get up from bed without too much pain, with the help of the walker and how to transfer my weight more to my good left leg when I walked.


A hospital aide later came in to do a survey, mainly asking me questions about my stay and the services. As you can see, it was done like flash cards. I gave above average scores for most of the items in the survey.


(Left) A close-up of the tubing and the bandaged wound. (Right) At a follow-up visit two weeks later when the dressing was removed. Hope readers won't find this too disturbing.


My biggest ordeal at the hospital was having to put on these medical compression tights. Aptly named, as it took Glen (the vendor) and one nurse, each working on one leg almost 45 minutes to complete the task without hurting the wound. Glen called it a sweaty workout. Belle said my legs looked really shapely. Certainly not the case two days later. The above photo (left) was taken immediately after wearing the tights. Two days later, my feet and right knee began to swell (right) and remained so in the weeks after.

(Part 2 to follow).

Monday, April 29, 2019

FINDING FULFILLMENT IN OUR RETIREMENT


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

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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

A study on volunteerism among older people revealed these benefits:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


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

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

Sunday, March 31, 2019

LOOKING FOR A GOOD AGED CARE FACILITY? READ THIS FIRST.


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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