Lim Biow Chuan made a valid point – awkwardly

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At a public forum last week, MP for Mountbatten SMC, Lim Biow Chuan, made a valid point of how the elderly should keep active and busy. Unfortunately, his argument was couched in an awkward example of his father running a fruit stall.

It’s not the first time he has got into a controversy because of the way he expressed himself. (See here.)

Mr Lim, who entered politics in 2006, was responding to a question from a 70-year old audience member who asked if the government could introduce a pension scheme for older folk.

The questioner, one Mr Aziz, said “the bad picture which has been painted is that the elderly have been forced to work, cleaning toilets, serving tables, just to survive.”

“I think not many people will believe you if you say that elderly work because they want to mix, because they want to do exercise,” Mr Aziz said. “Perhaps they work because they need to work.”

A pension fund, he argued, would help alleviate the burden of these elderly people.

Besides pointing to government support schemes, such as Silver Support, Mr Lim said Singaporeans should not always look to the government for solutions, and urged that they took their own initiatives.

“I always tell seniors whom I meet, go and do something, whether it is volunteer work, whatever,” Mr Lim said. “Because if you stay at home, the chances of you getting dementia is quite high.”

He related the example of his late father [emphasis mine]:

“When my father was alive, he was running a fruit stall,” the MP explained. “Now he runs it in a very poor manner and he loses money every month. So then he decided one day that he would sublet it out and take some rental income. And so he went home and then he stayed at home. After a few months, I looked at my father and I thought his situation was deteriorating. So I told him why don’t you take back the fruit stall, I will pay for your every month losses, because to me it is cheaper to pay for your every month losses than eventually pay for the dementia medical expenses.
“So he runs the stall, he just sits there and the fruits rot after a while. I was happy because he meets people, he talks to people, and it keeps him going. He doesn’t have to go and collect cardboard boxes, but the reality is that if he does nothing, I am more worried.”

Mr Lim’s remarks, especially the part of how it was “cheaper” to pay for the losses incurred by the fruit stall than to pay later for his father’s dementia, were picked up by some online and criticism levelled at Mr Lim.

The criticisms, however, are misguided, although Mr Lim could have phrased his words better.

It is commendable that Mr Lim would accept the losses from the fruit stall as long as it could stave off his father’s onset of mental illness. Of course, not everyone can do what Mr Lim did and accept such losses. But that is not the point which actually is this: do everything you can to help your elderly loved ones to stay healthy, whether physically or mentally.

Having an elderly mother myself, I understand completely what Mr Lim was trying to say.

My 82-year old Catholic mother would go to church regularly, even on weekdays, where she would get to also meet up with friends and join them in various activities. Every morning, she would join her exercise group from the neighbourhood. It is something she loves to do as it keeps her mobile.

These activities keep her occupied, and give her something to look forward to.

In recent weeks, however, she has taken ill, and has become weaker after a recent endoscopy. After her discharge from hospital, she is yet to recover to her pre-scope vigor or strength.

We, her children, worried if she was spending too much time at home with nothing much to do besides watching television (which is a mind-numbing activity), and the occasional walk downstairs.

She missed her friends and going to church, and has lost some weight the last weeks. Sleep has also been elusive.

Thankfully, her visits to the Chinese doctor recently is helping to bring back her health, slowly. We look forward to a full recovery, and when she can once again resume her former routine and meet with friends.

I also appreciate that my mom is still clear-minded, physically mobile, and relatively strong. She has always watched her diet very carefully and stays away from oily food, along with salt and sugar.

For those of us with elderly parents, we understand what Mr Lim was trying to say. So, while he may have expressed himself awkwardly, do note the bigger message he was trying to send, and it is an important one – keep healthy, active and engaged.

You can ask your elderly parents or grandparents to visit the community clubs and consider some of the activities they organise, for example, or encourage them to join various groups, such as those of religious organisations.

And yes, if you are able to afford it, you may even want to do what Mr Lim did – help your parents to run a small business.

Of course, don’t do it because it is cheaper than to pay for potential illnesses if they languished at home. Do it because it is the right thing to do, and that you want to help keep your parents healthy so they can still enjoy life at an advanced age.