Thursday, September 14, 2023


It's never too late to learn a new skill. -

If there is one word that should be banned from a senior citizen’s vocabulary, it is the word ‘Old’. How can we expect society to have a positive perception of older people when we think of ourselves as ‘old’ – as in ‘‘I’m too old to...”

Words have power. Never ever think we are too old to learn. Our brain cells do not atrophy with age. In fact, they regenerate. Our brain cells get stimulated with new learning. Neurogenesis and neuroplasticity enable us to continue absorbing new knowledge, new skills and new experiences.

These two processes continue throughout our life span. When we think we have lived long enough, seen enough, and there’s nothing more to learn, it is easy to slip into boredom. Life becomes a long stretch of humdrum.

Nothing new, nothing exciting to enjoy or look forward to. On the contrary, the best time to learn new things, to pursue our dreams is in our retirement years. No more nine to five, no more parenting responsibilities. We now have time and savings to learn what we want, with no pressure to sit for exams. Welcome to learning for leisure.

Learning for Leisure

Want to pick up a new skill such as cooking, painting or home repairs D.I.Y? How about learning a new language, a musical instrument or a new dance? Looking for something related to wellness? There’s yoga, tai chi and qigong.

Technology is more your cup of tea? Well, there’s smartphone usage, cloud computing and drone basics, all taught under Digital Technologies. Thinking of setting up a home-based business or a start-up? Enroll for a course on entrepreneurship.

Seniors at a U3A Design Thinking class - designing the ideal wallet 

All the above, and more, are courses offered at University of the Third Age (U3A) at MyAgeing, Universiti Putra Malaysia. When I first read about their Open Day in The Star in 2011, I was so excited. Right away, I registered for several courses. Now 12 years later, I am still taking up courses at U3A. The only difference is most of the courses have gone online via Zoom due to the Covid pandemic. This enables more seniors from outside the Klang Valley to take up courses.

There are more than 40 courses to choose from ranging from art and music to languages and digital skills. Most of the courses run for six weeks with course fees at an affordable RM80 per course.

Aside from U3A, there are 132 Pusat Aktiviti Warga Emas (PAWE) activity centres throughout the country. There are plans to have at least one PAWE in every constituency to promote active learning among the older population. Courses are offered free to enable seniors especially from the B40 group to expand their knowledge and learn new skills that could help them generate some income.

Academic Courses

Seniors who did not have the opportunity to further their studies after high school can now fulfill their dream of obtaining university qualifications.

Doing my MSc in Applied Gerontology
in 2018 at age 70
Compared to the limited number of courses in the 1960s-80s, our universities now offer literally hundreds of degree courses. As Malaysia heads towards ageing nation status, we can expect a surge in university applications from older adults. Yet, our university brochures invariably feature young undergrads fresh out of high school or college. This smacks of ageism, doesn’t it?

Grants, scholarships and loans have an upper age ceiling that shutout applications from older adults. Education has always been seen as a way out of poverty. This applies to young people as well as to older people. But with ageism, opportunities to improve the socio-economic status of retirees and pensioners via higher education remain limited.

Online Resources for Learning

One alternative is to go online for learning resources. With thousands of courses available online, many for free, adult learners are spoilt for choice. All that is required is the determination to complete the courses. Mind you, these courses are offered by some of the world’s top universities like Yale University, University of California, Los Angeles, National University of Singapore and Peking University.

My first Coursera certificate
 from Johns Hopkins, 2013
For those who are interested in online academic courses, you might want to check out Coursera. I signed up for my first online course “Care of Elders with Alzheimer’s Disease” in 2013 through Coursera. My certificate was issued by Johns Hopkins Hospital.

I have done a dozen free online courses since then.

The internet opens up a world of e-learning. It is our go-to virtual library. Knowledge is practically at our fingertips, and just a click away. It’s that simple to enrich our mind.

Unfortunately, there are still many among the older generation who think they are beyond learning anything new.

We seniors have to make the effort to learn digital tools. It is not as daunting as we think. YouTube is an excellent source of learning skills for those whose learning preference is visual rather than textual. You can learn practically anything under the sun, all with just a laptop and a stable internet connection.

There is really no excuse at all for not making the effort to learn because of our age.

Benefits of Lifelong Learning

Use it, or lose it: That applies to our brains as well. If we continue to use our brain, we are exercising it, stimulating it to think, to analyse, to reason, to stay mentally sharp. Learning new things throughout our lifetime can help reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. Our memory improves when we challenge it with learning new skills. Learning something new also boosts self-esteem. When we learn a new skill, we feel a sense of achievement and pride. When we add a new qualification to our name, we earn respect from others. More doors are open to us for employment.

Learning a new skill - at the 24-drums class with other seniors, enjoying the fun and camaraderie of group learning

For me personally, I enjoy the supportive social environment that comes with learning together with others. We form new friendships that are essential for our health and well-being. This is especially important for seniors who live alone or are dealing with stressful events. Going for hikes with friends can turn into a lesson on discovering wild flowers and rare mushrooms.

Visiting a museum or an exhibition can expand our knowledge. Attending a workshop on ChatGPT can help keep us abreast of the latest in digital tools. Everything and anything can be turned into a learning experience if we see it as such. There really is no excuse not to make use of the resources and opportunities available to us to remain mentally sharp as we age. Not doing so may earn us the label that is so often applied to older people – senile or nyanyok.

(This article was first published on 30 August 2023 in The Star under 'Grey Matters', a monthly column that focuses on issues and topics of interest and relevance to older persons. Some of my pictures have been added in this blog version to illustrate that age is no barrier to learning.)

Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.

Monday, August 7, 2023


But being together 24/7 could also result in daily acrimonious exchanges, with the couple getting on each other’s nerves. (Photo: Josh Felise/Unsplash)

‘To love and to hold, till death do us part’. 

Those were the days when marriage was a sacred institution. Marriages then were meant to last a lifetime.

Even when death took away one partner, the other would remain faithful till the end. Couples stayed together because they took their marriage vows seriously, especially if they married in a place of worship and exchanged vows before God. My mother remained a widow for 64 years after my father passed away at a very young age.

In this digital age, with freer social interaction between the sexes, and with online dating sites easily available, remaining faithful to one person for the rest of one’s life seems to be strictly for the firm believer in fairy tales of the genre ‘... and they lived happily ever after’.

Silver or grey divorces are on the rise. Asian societies have generally become more open to divorces.

Divorcees and single mothers are no longer stigmatised by family and friends. Children have become more accepting of their parents’ divorce.

The retirement years for empty nesters can make or break a marriage. When the children have flown the nest, one would think that is the best time for married couples to enjoy each other’s company. Having the whole house to themselves means having the peace and privacy to rekindle the romance that was relegated to the back-burner when the children were growing up.

But being together 24/7 could also result in daily acrimonious exchanges, with the couple getting on each other’s nerves. This was one of the possible explanations for the spike in non-Muslim divorce cases during the Covid pandemic when people were told to remain at home and not go out unless necessary.

According to National Statistics Department’s latest figures, non-Muslim divorces increased by 30.4% from 9,419 to 12,284 during Covid from 2020 to 2021.

Losing that loving feeling

For many senior couples, that old loving feeling is long gone, only to be replaced by a deep sense of loneliness, of unfulfilment and even regret at the realisation that perhaps their spouse is not that someone they want to spend the rest of their life with.

The situation is made worse when one partner has sexual needs that cannot or will not be met by the other partner.

Divorces are usually messy, ugly and expensive. The only winners are the lawyers. There is no point in saving a marriage that may have started off in heaven, but that has since quickly descended into marital hell.

Sure, there are couples who are blessed to have found their “soulmate” to share their lives with. But for many middle-aged couples, they are more likely to find themselves stuck in an unhappy marriage, wondering what happened to that sweetheart they loved and married so many years ago.

This is especially true for women in their 50s and 60s who feel trapped in their marriage. Emboldened by the rising number of silver-haired divorces they read about, they no longer think twice about initiating divorce proceedings. They no longer feel pressured to keep up a pretense of a happy marriage. They no longer fear facing the future alone.

Now better educated and able to support themselves financially, many divorcees are enjoying the single life again, or entering into new relationships. And with the children all grown and independent, there is even less reason for them to remain in the role of the long-suffering wife, especially if their husband has been unfaithful or abusive to them.

To be fair, there are husbands who want to leave their wives too. Some women are no angels, and do cheat on their husbands. Others are gold-diggers or title-seekers. Still others are so insecure, they become overly jealous and possessive of their husband, while many are born naggers, constantly harping on their husbands’ perceived faults. Such women can make marriage a living hell for their husband.

If it’s the man who initiates the divorce, it’s usually because of another woman who has re-kindled the spark of passion in him. Few men would want to divorce their wives who have brought up the children and provided them with all the comforts of home.

Even if these men have lost physical and emotional interest in their wives over the years, they would still want to remain married.

Couples who split amicably can choose to live separately without going through a divorce. They can still remain friends and enjoy family reunion dinners and outings. There should be no regret or bitterness on both sides. Forgive, forget and move on.

Women are no longer fixated on finding a husband before they get “too old”. Men are just as happy to remain eligible bachelors. We know friends who are happy to remain single if they have not found a kindred spirit to spend the rest of their lives with.

Datuk Dr Khairuddin Yusof and Datin Khairiah are an example of a happily married couple who've journeyed through live together. (Photo: DR KHAIRUDDIN YUSOF)

On the bright side, there are couples who have enjoyed marital bliss from their wedding day till the present day. These are truly marriages made in heaven, that no one and nothing can break asunder. These are rock-solid marriages, not marriages on the rocks. These happily married couples would be the first to tell you that it takes a lot of “give-and-take” and sacrifices to make a marriage work.

It is a milestone, an enviable achievement, when couples celebrate their golden wedding anniversary together. It’s a rarity too.

Given the changing times and the liberal social norms of today, the odds are heavily stacked against young couples to stay happily married for the rest of their lives.

When we look at young married couples, including our own adult children, we can only pray in our hearts that they will “love and honour each other for as long as they shall live”. Given the longer life span today, that could mean the next 40-50 years of their lives.

All newly-weds want their marriage to work. They want to grow old together.

Here are some tips for a long-lasting marriage. Remember it takes a lot of work for both parties.

1. Appreciate your spouse and show it with little acts of love.

2. Communicate. Share your feelings, your views, and your worries.

3. Continue to have sex and intimacy. Have weekly dates.

4. Never criticise or humiliate your spouse in front of others.

5. Have realistic expectations of each other.

6. Embrace your differences.

7. Have your own pursuits as well as shared ones.

8. Learn from each other, and respect each other.

9. Support each other in maintaining an active healthy lifestyle.

10. There will come a time when one spouse will pass on before the other. So cherish every moment spent together. 

The print copy was published on 2 Aug, and the online edition on 5 Aug. Some images have been added for this version. The Star article can be accessed at

Lily Fu is a gerontologist who advocates for seniors. She is founder of SeniorsAloud, an online platform for seniors to get connected and enjoy social activities for ageing well.

Wednesday, July 19, 2023


The very fact that the retirement age keeps rising is one indication that longevity is here to stay. Photo:

 “75 is good enough for me!”

This response never fails to surprise me whenever I pose this question to my friends: How long would you like to live? Rarely do I hear someone say, 100.

Even as a hypothetical question, those who say they want to live as long as they can usually qualify it with “must be still in good health and of sound mind”.

Of course, we are not talking about living to a ripe old age frail, senile and bed-bound. No one would want to live that long without quality of life. Life is precious. It is a gift. We want to cling to it for as long as we can. And it is entirely up to us, our responsibility to ensure we remain reasonably fit and well as we enter advanced age. The golden years should not be a misnomer.

I am 75 now. I definitely want to stick around to see my grandchildren graduate, get married and be blessed to cradle in my arms my first-born great-grandchild. How could anyone not want such joys in life?

Many of my friends are in their 70s, 80s and even 90s. All of us feel we are in our second prime, still fit, vibrant and energetic. And full of zest for life.

There was a time when centenarians were so rare in Japan, on their birthdays they would receive a silver sake dish or sakazuki from the government. When this practice was introduced in 1963, there were only 153 centenarians. By 2014, the number had increased to almost 30,000! This practice was eventually discontinued in 2015.

Each generation lives longer and better than the previous one. My mum was 95 when she passed on. According to the National Registration Department census, Malaysia had a total of 43,599 centenarians in 2015. That number would have gone way up by now. In 2020, 109-year-old Annamah Abukutty entered Malaysia’s Book of Records as the oldest living woman in Malaysia. She was hale and hearty and able to give a lucid interview on Star TV.

Teresa Tsu at 112 enjoying the thrill of kite-flying. - BELLE LEE

The oldest person I met was already 110 when I first met her in October 2008 at a talk she was giving on “How to live to 110”. She was my inspiration for my work in the seniors’ community. We remained in touch till she passed on at 113. Her mantra was laughter – the ability to take life lightly. To her, laughter was anytime preferable to tears.

The very fact that the retirement age keeps rising is one indication that longevity is here to stay. Studies show that a child born today in developed countries is expected to live to 150. Biochemist and gerontologist Aubrey de Grey came out in the 1990s with his conviction that living forever is possible once we have conquered age-related diseases such as cancer, stroke, dementia, diabetes, osteoporosis and atherosclerosis.

Since then, research and study into the science of ageing has exploded. In 2013, Google started the R&D company Calico, and invested over a billion dollars into life extension research. Coming up is the Longevity Summit in Dublin from Aug 17 to 20. It will be a showcase for the most up-to-date research and innovations in the longevity industry.

In Singapore, the Tsao Foundation held a Longevity Forum in May 2023. Founding director of Stanford Centre on Longevity, Prof Laura Cartensen, who delivered the keynote address, spoke of the need to match healthspan with lifespan. Experts attending the conference felt that businesses, the government and society in general should start preparing for the longevity future. Singapore will reach super-aged status in 2026.

Welcome to longevity. Living to 100 will be the norm by 2050. It is no longer a pipe dream, and there is no need to seek the proverbial fountain of youth. Thanks to advances in health, nutrition, medical care, education, technology and public awareness of what constitutes healthy living, we are not only living longer, but living better and looking younger than our chronological age. Videos of amazing seniors in their 80s and 90s working out, modelling clothes and enjoying life in full have gone viral on social media. The number of “granfluencers” on Tik Tok is growing.

The next obvious question is: How do we ensure we live up to 100 still physically fit and mentally sound as when we were in our 40s?

In 2009, I came across a National Geographic article by Dan Buettner. He identified five places in the world which he called Blue Zones where people live the longest, and are healthiest: Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Nicoya, Costa Rica; Ikaria, Greece, and Loma Linda, California.

Obviously, these are places and cultures foreign to most of us. But we can adapt some of the findings from Buettner’s seminal study, and from a simple survey I did of the Malaysian and Singaporean super agers I know.

Here’s a list of “pillars” of ageing well. Most are familiar to us, but remember: No action, no results.

1. There are NO obese centenarians. So, let’s watch our weight and don’t overeat. Stop when we are 80% full.

2. Choose “forks over knives” (watch the excellent documentary of the same title). Go for a plant-based diet that includes nuts and whole grains.

3. Treat ourselves to a glass or two of red wine a day. Asians prefer tea. It is a good anti-oxidant too.

4. Know our purpose in life (ikigai) and be driven by it. Volunteering for a good cause is just as meaningful.

5. Have an anchor, a belief system – spiritual or religious. Many seniors turn to religion not only for refuge and comfort, but also to prepare for the next and final chapter of life.

6. Learn to relax and enjoy life. Nothing is worth losing sleep or friendship over. Forgive, forget, and move on.

7. Keep physically and mentally active. Top of the list are brisk walking, strength training and brain stimulating exercises. Supplement with some taiji or yoga for balance and fall prevention.

8. Be part of a healthy social network. Lack of social engagements, especially for seniors living alone, may lead to loneliness and depression, and a tendency for suicidal thoughts.

9. Maintain good family ties. Enjoy family celebrations and reunions. This is a big boost to our wellbeing.

So, the question again: “Is it worth living to 100?” My answer is a resounding Yes!

The above article written by LILY FU was first published in Star Silver pullout of The Star on Wed 5 July 2023. The link is at

Friday, June 23, 2023


'Volunteering in community service may be the missing piece that completes our overall well-being and contentment in retirement'

Grey Matters by Lily Fu

Eat, sleep, wake. Repeat. Eat, sleep, wake. Ad infinitum. Doing what we like, living how we want, and no one to answer to. Bliss! But sooner or later, we will wake up one morning feeling something is missing in our lives. The hours ahead seem stretched. Day in, day out, it’s the same old routine. Retirement is turning out to be one big yawn.

Once we have got over the initial joy of being master of our time, harsh reality sets in. While some find they are busier (not necessarily happier) than ever in retirement, there are those among us who complain about the long endless days of boredom, with nothing exciting or fulfilling to occupy them. Beyond looking after their grandchildren, going shopping, playing golf, travelling, watching TV, meeting up with friends, indulging in their hobbies or learning something new, what else is there? 

Is this all there is to living life to the fullest in our retirement years?

When we have the rest of our lives ahead of us, what would make us look forward to welcoming each new day? How does one get to find meaning in life, that elusive ‘ikigai’, that ‘raison d’etre’?

Perhaps we could borrow Marie Kondo's tagline 'spark joy', not so much to declutter our homes although that would certainly help when we downsize our home, and give away the bulk of our possessions accumulated over the years, but to apply the same concept to finding something that would spark joy in our lives.

Some have found pleasure in activities such as gardening, painting and writing at home. 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, caring and giving to others?

Can we be truly happy and at peace with ourselves while there are so many people out there needing help, and so many causes out there that could do with our support?

Being financially well-off does not guarantee happiness or peace of mind. We know that. Even the rich may feel a void in their lives, an emptiness that needs to be filled with something they have yet to discover. This is why many billionaires turn philanthropists when they approach their senior years. They know they can’t bring their wealth with them when they depart on what my mom euphemistically refers to as ‘a world cruise with no return date’. It makes them feel good to use their wealth for altruistic purposes. Many set up foundations to offer scholarships to deserving students and grants to promising start-ups.

Ordinary folks like us can contribute too.

For those of us with some money to spare, we can donate to a deserving charity or to a noble cause. Even RM10 can go a long way if many contribute. Some charities such as Hospice Malaysia, Alzheimer’s Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM), Malaysian Association for the Blind would welcome our help. Not all of us can afford to donate money, but we can certainly give our time, our energy, our experience, our talents/skill to help where it is needed. There are so many ways we can give back to society, including donating blood, even donating our bodies for research in University of Malaya’s ‘Silent Mentor’ programme. 

We could offer to help at animal shelters, soup kitchens, recycling centres, community gardens and many more. Temples, churches and mosques welcome volunteers to help out with their community service projects. If we have a skill, why not make use of it to do something for the community? Retired teachers can offer to give free tuition. Retired nurses can volunteer at community clinics or old folk’s homes. It is never more rewarding than putting a lifetime’s accumulated wisdom and experience to good use at one’s golden age. And if we have more than what we need, to give some to others who have much less.

Camie Choo, 61, winner of the Tender-Hearted category in the ‘Be a Star Beyond 50’ campaign (organised by The Star in collaboration with Nutren Optimum by Nestle Health Science), is a fine example of a senior who made use of her excellent sewing skills to sew 1000 facial masks during the Covid-19 pandemic to raise funds for SPCA Selangor. She is currently sewing hats for sale with proceeds going to Cheshire Home to train those with disabilities to be independent.

There is Kamil Yusof, 72, who regularly delivers food and essential items to families living in low-cost PPR flats. Twin sisters Choke Ling and Choke Wun, 79, help out regularly at Kebun-Kebun Bangsar community garden. 

There is no end to appeals for volunteers, but not many will respond. 

The best gifts are those that are meaningful, that light up the recipients' face and bring joy to their hearts. Indeed, giving to those in need shouldn't be restricted to festive seasons, but whenever the opportunity arises to help.

Doing good generates positive effects on our physical and mental health. Our time is gainfully occupied, and we experience a sense of greater self-worth. 

Nothing is more satisfying and more rewarding than being able to help others who are in need. Volunteering in community service gives purpose and meaning to our golden years. It is the missing piece that completes our overall well-being and contentment in retirement.

If tables were turned, wouldn’t we wish for help from others? Kindness begets kindness. Let’s spread more of that. The world certainly needs it.

Tuesday, May 23, 2023


One idea to consider is to let workers decide for themselves and be given the option to work as long as they are able to, or need to, says gerontologist Lily Fu. Photo:

Thursday, 11 May 2023


Former PM Tun Mahathir, once jokingly said the new retirement age in Malaysia will be 95 when he hands over his premiership to his successor. That was in 2018. He may have said it in jest but at the rate our demography chart is changing, Malaysia will reach ageing nation status by 2030, when we will see more people working well into their 70s. This is inevitable.

When the Employees Provident Fund (EPF) was set up in 1951, life expectancy then, believe it or not, was 55! With the retirement age set at 55, lump sum EPF withdrawals would be more than sufficient to sustain contributors through the short retirement period. We now know those figures were way off the mark. Advances in science, medicine and technology have drastically extended life span. Life expectancy in Malaysia currently stands at 76, and is set to rise further in the years ahead. 60 is the new 40, and living to a ripe old age of 80 and beyond is fast becoming the norm.

But what good is a longer life span if we do not have sufficient savings to enjoy those extra years? According to EPF figures, 51.5% of its 6.67 million members under the age of 55 have less than Rm10,000 savings. EPF’s 2019 Expenditure Guide for Malaysian individuals and families in the Klang estimates that an elderly couple living in the Klang Valley would need at least RM3090 a month for living expenses, or at least RM240,000 in savings by the time they retire at 55. With prices escalating and inflation showing no sign of abating, for those living in the urban areas, this figure will be grossly inadequate in the years to come.

With longer life span, retirees in their 60s-70s have elderly parents in their 80s-90s to look after. Long term age care alone for their parents will eat up whatever savings they may have. What about their own medical and healthcare expenses? The family structure has changed so drastically that parents can no longer expect their adult children to support them in their old age. Family size has shrunk, and with the grown children moving out to work or settle elsewhere, older couples are often left to fend for themselves.

That is why more and more retirees are returning to work life almost immediately after retirement. And older workers want to continue working past 60. Except for those with ample savings, most older workers especially those from the lower socio-economic group can ill-afford to stop working. 

But getting a job is easier said than done. Older workers face age discrimination in the workplace. Unless they have skills that are highly sought after, and unless the government offers a helping hand to retrain and upskill older workers, many have difficulty re-entering the job market once they have left it. It certainly doesn’t help when the public has a negative perception of older persons as frail, senile and a burden to support.

We are moving rapidly into an ageing society. Businesses that deal with retail, travel and hospitality, for example, would do well to employ more silver-haired staff to cater to customers in the older age group. Indeed, older people make good workers. Here’s why.

They are mature and conscientious. They are committed to their job, and do not job-hop. They have excellent people skills, and are experienced in handling crisis and emergencies. Older customers definitely feel more comfortable with older sales personnel who understand their needs and tastes much better. They are also more patient and confident in handling customers’ requests or complaints.

On the other hand, unless they have much-needed skills or expertise, older workers seeking to re-enter the workforce should not be too picky about job offers and be prepared to accept lower remunerations and fewer benefits.

In acknowledging the plight of retirees and those nearing retirement age, the government has sought to increase job opportunities by offering tax incentives for employers hiring older Malaysians. More companies are offering pre-retirement courses to help their soon-to-retire employees prepare for the years ahead. Whether this will make a significant difference remains to be seen.

One thing is for certain - we can expect the retirement age to continue going up in tandem with the rise in life expectancy. In developed countries such as Singapore and Japan, life expectancy is 82.8 and 84.8 respectively. The retirement age is moving towards 65. Former PM of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, famously said that 'retirement means death', and was in favour of doing away with the retirement age.

Let workers decide for themselves. They should be given the option to work as long as they are able to, or need to. 

As it is, we are already complaining about escalating prices and soaring expenses. With inflation eating into our nest egg, we just have to keep on bringing home the bacon, especially if we have college-going children and elderly parents to support. 

When older workers continue working, everyone benefits. The older workers themselves can remain self-supporting. For young people, they can be thankful that their working parents can fend for themselves and not be a financial burden to them. The government can save billions that would otherwise have to be spent on welfare aid for older citizens. Companies will be able to address labour shortage by hiring from a big pool of mature workers.

So, whichever way we look at the situation, the retirement age will have to be raised. The likelihood of doing away with a retirement age altogether will gain traction in the years ahead. Let's just hope it won't reach a situation where we have to work until we drop dead!

(The above article was first published in The Star under the monthly column 'GREY MATTERS'.)

Saturday, April 29, 2023


Unless we have prepared well, the years after retirement can be far from golden. —

Wednesday 12 April 2023

Working folks envy their colleagues who have retired. No more nine to five, no more taking orders from the boss, no more stress from meeting deadlines or worrying about ROI.

They have all the time now to do what they like, go where they want and be able to finally pursue their dreams, whether it’s to travel, take up a new hobby or get a degree.

This is an idealised picture of retirement. Unless we have prepared well, the retirement years can be far from golden. Just take a walk in the inner-city streets, the back alleys, or visit low-cost flats (PPR). You will see the other side of retirement. Not a pretty picture.

Every so often we read about an elderly abandoned at the bus-stop or at a hospital.

According to the Social Welfare Department (JKM), about 2000 elderly have checked into welfare homes over the past five years. The actual figure is probably much higher. An estimated 71% of EPF contributors do not have enough savings to live above the poverty line.

To be fair, there have been improvements over the years. Senior citizens enjoy discounts on public transport. Medical care is practically free at government clinics, and easily affordable at public hospitals. Elder-friendly facilities are now fixtures in public buildings, and there are special lanes in government departments to serve the elderly.

There are plans to have an activity centre for seniors (Pusat Activiti Warga Emas or PAWE) in every parliamentary constituency. The grant for each PAWE to run the centre has been raised from RM33,330 to RM50,000 annually. All very good, but these improvements have been long overdue, and are a very small step towards preparing for the future.

There are plans to have an activity centre for seniors (PAWE) in every parliamentary constituency such as this one in Taman Medan, Petaling Jaya. The grant for each PAWE to run the centre has been raised from RM33,330 to RM50,000 annually. These improvements have been long overdue, and are a very small step towards preparing for the future. - Filepic

Based on findings of the on-going Malaysia Ageing and Retirement Survey (MARS) conducted by Universiti Malaya’s Social Wellbeing Research Centre, and involving 5,613 respondents, Malaysia will be classified as a super-aged nation by 2056 when 20% of the population is aged 65 and above.

Academicians and researchers on ageing have conducted countless surveys over the years. It is such a waste of time, money and effort when nothing much happens after they have presented their findings to the government.

The proposal to introduce legislations against elder abuse and abandonment has been brought up now and then over the past two decades. Each time the issue raises a storm of controversy, then the buzz fizzles out till the next time it is mentioned again in Parliament.

As an example, in Sept 2019, then Deputy PM and Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail announced the Senior Citizens Bill would be tabled in Parliament in early 2021.

With the subsequent change in government, the bill was left in limbo. Fast forward to March 2023. Current Deputy Minister Aiman Athirah Sabu, in responding to a question, said the bill would be tabled in Parliament for the first reading in 2024! When that time comes, will there be yet another delay? Will the same scenario repeat itself?

Speaking in the Dewan Rakyat recently, Women’s Minister Datuk Seri Nancy Shukri, commended the National Senior Citizens Advisory and Consultative Council (MPPWEN) on their role they played. The council meets only twice a year. The urgency is not there.

There is a crying need for an inter-ministerial committee on Ageing. Any action plan on ageing should involve more than just the Women, Family and Community Development Ministry.

NGOs, CSOs and representatives from the B40 group should also be at the table. These are the grassroot leaders who are familiar with the problems faced and are directly impacted by any decisions made. They speak from lived experience, and their voices should be heard.

Bear in mind proposals and plans are just that, on paper and in discussions in meeting rooms where the elderly who are the target group do not have a seat at the table.

Even when Acts and Bills are passed, implementation is painfully slow due to bureaucratic red tape. The Social Welfare Department (JKM) has too much on its plate: from the welfare of women, children, senior citizens, OKU to the community at large.

Each demographic group has its own set of issues to deal with. When resources are limited, priority is often given to women, children and youths.

After all, for the elderly their days are numbered. They do not contribute much to the economy and in fact are seen as a drain on limited resources for welfare.

These retirees and pensioners, mostly in their 70s and 80s, have contributed much to nation-building in their younger days. Now in their twilight years, they are overlooked, if not forgotten in the broader scheme of things.

The haves can take care of themselves. Our concern is the have-nots – theB40 elderly and those living without family support. Aside from the crumbs given to senior citizens at every Budget allocation, they are often shut out in the job market, and denied opportunities to better themselves.

What they need is sustained financial support, not one-off handouts as and when, and also access to long-term health care. How long do the elderly have to wait for better days ahead in the time they have left? It is a time bomb ticking away when we consider the ramifications an ageing population presents.

(The above article was originally published in Star Silver pullout of The Star under the column 'Grey Matters'.)

Monday, March 20, 2023


Are we baby boomers the last line of defence left to uphold and preserve filial piety? If our adult children and grandchildren seem lacking in respect for their elders, are we as much to blame as the changing times and hence, changing values? Have we pampered and mollycoddled them too much? Have we allowed them to get away with indiscipline and disrespect to their parents and grandparents?

Getting to be a common sight in the city - the elderly having to fend for themselves.

What about us? We have elderly parents in their 80s to look after. Are we exemplary models for our adult children to emulate? Can we look at ourselves in the mirror and honestly say that we have looked after our elderly parents well, and given them our love and respect?

When was the last time we held our elderly parents' hands or gave them a hug?

When was the last time we hugged our parents or held their hands? They don't need gifts of money, hampers of food or bouquets of flowers. All they want is the reassurance that they have not been forsaken and forgotten by their family members.

When our parents are gone, can we ever forgive ourselves for neglecting them in their final years? The time for us to start is right now, before the sands of time run out for our elderly parents, and it's too late for regrets.

How we treat our elderly parents is how our children will treat us one day in our old age. They will learn from us.

Tuesday, February 28, 2023


KUALA LUMPUR: Gerontologist and advocate for seniors, Lily Fu (pic), wishes there are more funds for the elderly.

"Well, a bit of good news for some sectors but, generally, crumbs again for seniors. Not much to cheer about.

“If only we had a minister or an agency on aging to speak out for older people.

“All of us will age, and we also have elderly parents and grandparents. Most of the MPs are not spring chickens either.

“Why are the needs of the elderly often ignored or overlooked?” she lamented after the revised Budget 2023 was tabled at Parliament on Friday.

Fu is disappointed that there was no mention of age-friendly facilities and infrastructure or tax incentives for companies to employ older persons.

“There was no mention of special digital literacy programmes to help seniors grapple with technology.

“There was no tax allocation for families looking after the elderly who need long-term care or those with comorbidities.

“I feel that most of the allocations are catered for the B40 group,” said the 75-year-old, who is also the founder of Seniors Aloud, an online network of senior citizens.

Malaysia entered an ageing society in 2020.

With the population of its senior citizens (age 65 and above) standing at 7.3% now, the country is expected to enter an aged society about 21 years from now and eventually turn into a super-aged society in 2056.

The process is faster than previously projected due to a declining fertility rate and low birth rate.

According to the Statistics Department, a total of 439,744 babies were born in 2021, a 6.7% (31,760 births) drop from the previous year.

The Total Fertility Rate has also shown a declining trend from 4.9 children per woman of childbearing age (15 to 49 years) in 1970 to 1.7 in 2021.

Despite the Budget 2023 not targeting many goodies for senior citizens, retired teacher Josephine Odela Soosay Raj, 82, said she is still glad that overall, the budget benefits most Malaysians.

“From what I see, the budget will enable our country to move into a new phase that will see more foreign investors coming in.

“I’m also pleased that our Prime Minister is looking at the needs of the younger generation. He spoke about the problem of pornography and upgrading schools in rural areas.

“So for me, I feel that our country will have a new image,” said the former teacher of SK St Theresa 1 here.

The grandmother of five is happy about the government’s focus on the welfare of padi farmers and rubber tappers.

“A lot of money will be spent to upgrade clinics and hospitals and repair roads in flood-prone areas.

“I don’t mind that the senior citizens’ interests are left aside for now.

“Let our leader see to the needs of others. Once that’s in place, he should see to our needs,” she added.

(The above article was first published in The Star on Sunday 26 Feb 2023. The comments were made in response to the PM's Budget Speech delivered in Parliament on Fri 24 Feb.)

Monday, January 30, 2023


The happy faces reflect the success of the first book review held recently to connect the readers of  "Our Stories, Our Legacy" with the writers. More about the event in the writeup below, courtesy of Liow Moi Lee, editor of the book. 

Copies of the book are available for sale at these locations below: Mont Kiara, Bangsar and Ampang. Please contact Lily for more info. Thank you.