Learning to age



“GRANDMOTHER is coming down the stairs. I can see her,” my daughter says. We are on Skype, with me in my mum’s home at Petaling Jaya, and my daughter in Sydney, Australia. My mum has just finished her shower and is coming down for tea – a mug of warm milk and a cupcake or some biscuits.

“Isn’t that amazing,” she points out, “that at 100 years old she can still manage the stairs, just the gentle help of one of the maid’s hands guiding her?”

I totally agreed.

My mother is amazing. Despite having had nine children, she doesn’t suffer from incontinence. My daughter is a physiotherapist in Sydney’s largest private retirement home. She tells me that people who are much younger than my mother, have incontinence problems.

That piece of information got me thinking … how thankful I must be for that. It is not such a pleasant task to change diapers for an elderly person as it could be embarrassing for the person whenever a change is required. He or she has to admit they are dependent on someone else. And when it has to be done a few times a day, plus cleaning up messy poo, I can only salute the carers who do this daily for their loved ones. After all, most of these carers are not trained in nursing.

When I look at other seniors who are bedridden, I can’t help but pray that one day I will not be in a similar state where I will need nursing or daily change of nappies. Not suffering from nappy rash is indeed a great blessing.

Apart from being fairly frail and hard of hearing, my mum is fit physically and mentally. She can still play mahjong without you waiting forever for her to throw the tile that serves her no purpose. Her cognitive skills and eyesight are good. Her large family is always coming and going, from the US, Australia, China, Europe, the UK, Indonesia and East Malaysia. Yet my mum knows their whereabouts and asks when they plan to return. She has no dementia, a disease that is going to affect the ageing population more and more. It’s yet another huge blessing to thank God for.

Her routine is simple. Sleep early (secret of long life?) – before 9pm, wake up by 9am. Then it’s prayers and a simple breakfast of a mug of milk and some biscuits. Next, she watches television until morning tea (usually a slice of bread with fried egg), after which she settles comfortably on the sofa for a snooze till lunch time. Lunch is really simple – egg tart or a sweet potato or two, or black sesame porridge and a glass of milk. Then more sleep on the sofa till she decides to wake up because of the afternoon heat, and go upstairs to enjoy air-conditioned comfort. Tea time is usually around 5pm after her bath, which is assisted by the maid.

A nightlight enables my mother to make out her walker which is placed next to her bed. She is able, with the help of a physio stick, to pull herself up, sit up straight, hold onto the walker to go to the toilet. She only uses the walker at night with the assistance of the maid, as she is not so steady in her semi-wakefulness.

I had bought an odd-shaped stick which is really a right angle bar from Sydney and brought it home. One strong end is slipped under the bed and what sticks out is a one-and-a-half-foot stick. All you have to do is adjust it on the bed in such a way that when you want to get up, it is in the right place for you to hold onto and heave yourself up. What a wonderful contraption! Absolutely brilliant, yet so simple.

This is what she uses on nights when the maid is too tired and doesn’t wake up. The contraption makes it possible for mum to get her by herself. She is healthy and strong!

On Sundays, the family get together for dinner at some restaurant and most times, she is happy just sitting there and not speaking much but observing what goes on. Most times, she settles the bill! She says that she can’t take her money with her, so she might as well spend it! And what a wise way, by helping to build strong family ties.

Sometimes I walk into restaurants on Sunday nights, and see an increasing number of elderly people with their families. It looks like this will be a growing pattern as more and more of us get into our senior years.

Perhaps we can all take a leaf out of my mother’s book by taking responsibility for our health. We could change our lifestyle – perhaps sleeping earlier, eating healthier food – so that as we grow older, we are indeed wiser.

Watching people suffer has caused me to be less greedy – I am more careful with what sort of food I eat! I am reminded that I am what I eat. I must exercise so that I am fit and do not have to be dependent on anyone else to look after me. Let us take responsibility for our wellbeing!

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