Strait Times: The new active senior citizen (2008-06-04)

JUNE CHEONG reports

 

Mr Say Lee Tou (right) is 82 but he is adept in the ways of the modern, wired world and regularly surfs the Net.

The retiree, who was formerly an exporter of mechanical tools, also volunteers at the National Museum of Singapore and has been conducting Mandarin tours since 2004.

He said in Mandarin: ‘I’ve always been interested in Asian history so I signed up to help out at the museum.’

‘The volunteers’ wealth of experience make tours more entertaining and insightful and we can tap on their wisdom and knowledge,’ said Mr Walter Lim, 37, director of corporate communications and industry promotion at the National Heritage Board (NHB).

NHB hopes to attract more senior citizens by offering free entry to all museums on Mondays and installing wheelchair access and extra benches.

Last year, 1.7million people visited the six museums run by NHB, including National Museum and Asian Civilisations Museum (ACM), of which less than 10 per cent were above 55 years old.

Mr Say is among a small – but growing – group of senior citizens who refuse to take their retirement easy.

Former pharmacist Tan Shook Fong, 67, who volunteers as a tour guide at ACM and National Museum, said: ‘With work, we were earning our keep. With volunteerism, we’re keeping our interests alive.’

Doctors applaud this positive attitude of active seeking and constant learning in the elderly.

Dr Kaysar Mamun, head and consultant of the department of geriatric medicine at Singapore General Hospital, said: ‘The brain is something you either use or risk losing. It’s very important to stay active physically and mentally.

‘Volunteer work is good because you choose to do something you like, it’s meaningful and stress-free.’

Besides NHB, other organisations which welcome senior citizen volunteers are mostly volunteer welfare organisations like the Asian Women’s Welfare Association (AWWA), which has 57 senior citizen volunteers.

Ms Kan See Mun, director of elderly services at AWWA, said that the volunteers are involved in activities like cooking, serving meals, cleaning and story-telling.

But volunteerism is not for everyone.

Associate Professor Chin Jing Jih, senior consultant at the department of geriatric medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, emphasised that senior citizens should keep to activities ‘that make them happy and are appropriate for their physical and mental status’.

Dr Mamun added that keeping up a social life, either through volunteer work or recreational activities like mahjong, is important for staving off depression as senior citizens often ‘lose their coping mechanisms when their spouses or friends pass away’.

Retiree Dincy Lim, 74, who is a regular volunteer for two hospital-based support groups, said: ‘I was a housewife and raised two children. Now, it’s just my husband and I.

‘I’ve learnt things from volunteer work that I can’t get from books. I’m very blessed.’

 

junec@sph.com.sg

 

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