Tang Hung Hueng (second from left) with residents of Silver Jubilee Home for the Aged.
The Silver Jubilee Home for the Aged in Sungai Dua does work that the rest of society needs to appreciate.
The women were smiling broadly when we walked past the row of beds, excited to have visitors to talk to.
“I take a lot of medicine because my leg hurts,” one chimes out of the blue.
“I don’t think I’ll be able to go for exercise tomorrow,” says another, hoping to persuade the manager to let her skip the exercise routine the next day.
A lady was sitting by her bedside, flipping through a paper calendar in her hands, noting each coming holiday with a black marker pen and going back to the first page to start over, making sure she had not missed any of them.
These were a few of the residents we came across when we visited the Silver Jubilee Home for the Aged in Sungai Dua. Established in 1935, the home houses 159 residents and has 59 employees. The land, covering 22.5 acres, was donated by philanthropist Cheah Leong Keah. Silver Jubilee runs mainly on donations that come from various companies, organisations and members of the public.
What began as a single-storey 48-hutment has expanded to chalet-style residences, recreational rooms, a rehabilitation centre, dining halls and wards. Most residents are 70 years old and above and are divided into cluster units (able-bodied and mobile residents) and medical wards (for those who are less mobile).
The home is free of charge; however, the application process is extremely detailed and precise, and can take up to a month.
“The first step upon application will be an individual interview with the applicant,” says Tang Hung Hueng, general manager of Silver Jubilee. “This is the most important part of the whole process because we need to know that they are not forced to come, and that they are willing to become part of a community. If they aren’t, we will ask them to come back when they are ready, because unhappy residents will be the ones that cause the most trouble.”
After passing the first stage, applicants will go through a health check-up that consists of blood tests as well as X-rays to ensure that they are fit and well and do not have any contagious diseases. “People need to remember that this is not a nursing home. This is a home for the aged,” explains Tang.
Another important criterion for the publicly funded and state government-supported home is that residents must not have any children or dependents. Having this system reduces the probability of children wanting an easy way out by dumping their parents in the home.
Applicants must have at least two sponsors who are willing to take responsibility and be held liable for the resident when it comes to behavioural issues, medical needs and death. Sponsors need not be relatives, and may be neighbours or even good Samaritans who want to help out. In extreme cases where no sponsors are available, the welfare department will step in.
“We do an in-depth investigation before we approve any applicant. We visit their houses and talk to the neighbours – all to make sure that these people are the ones that really need our help,” says Tang.
An array of gym equipment in the exercise room.
The application process concludes with a final decision by members of the board. For the first three months after checking in, residents are not allowed to go out. After the probation period ends, residents can go out of the home once a week, provided there is someone to pick them up and fill in the necessary forms. During public holidays such as Chinese New Year, some residents can even apply to leave for three days to travel to their hometown.
But what happens should the residents no longer wish to be here? There is a self-discharge form, but once they leave, they will not be accepted into the home again.
A Holistic Routine
The day begins with breakfast at 7.30am, followed by light physical therapy which includes Xiang Gong, a traditional Chinese exercise, three times a week. There is also a rehab centre with a full-time physiotherapist to assist the elderly in practicing various basic movements. The centre provides not only an impressive array of gym equipment, but also simple jigsaw puzzles to help stimulate their minds. Though most residents are Chinese, there is a designated kitchen for Muslim residents.
After lunch at noon, residents are free to either retire to their rooms to rest or join activities such as karaoke sessions. In the library, there is a bookshelf filled with novels and other donated books. Colouring books and drawing papers are scattered across the table, and a peek at their work shows endearing drawings of cartoon characters.
Artwork by the elderly.
Every first Wednesday of the month, a birthday party is held for those who were born that month. A private salon is also set up once a month, and residents can then have haircuts, perms and even manicures. Every Tuesday, they can visit the Chai Tiam Ma (sundry shop) and get rations, such as biscuits, Milo and instant noodle packets that have been supplied by public donors. Since dinnertime is early, these items come in handy later in the night should they feel peckish. Lights out is at 10.30pm.
“We provide these activities to keep them healthy. Able-bodied residents also help out with simple chores such as folding clothes, cutting vegetables and sweeping fallen leaves,” says Tang. “We want them to feel valued, that they can still contribute.” Some residents even sew clothes that can be used by other residents, and make various handicrafts like bags for sale.
It is crucial that the residents have a positive attitude towards life, and the staff do their best to inspire this. “Sometimes, there are those who say ‘I come here to die’, and that’s a very bad attitude,” says Tang. “I tell them, they don’t have to be that negative. There’s still a lot they can contribute and do!
“The worst thing that can happen here is loneliness. We can provide them with all the basic necessities, but company is difficult. That is why they look forward to volunteers.”
Once a month, residents have their hair cut by volunteers.
School children, community groups and resident associations often visit the home. Although most volunteer on an irregular basis, they help to bring a sense of change to the residents’ everyday routine. Fire drills, Dr. Dog therapy and school visits also cheer the residents up.
We walk around the medical wards and cluster units, each separated according to gender. The female side is brighter and abuzz with elderly women chatting, eating and walking. The men’s side is noticeably quieter; groups of elderly men sit together without talking.
There are three units reserved for married couples. Two of them were married when they checked in, but one couple actually met in the home and got married here! Talk about finding love when you least expect it – there is always a silver lining.
Love, friendship and conviviality can be found, and with motivation from Silver Jubilee’s staff and volunteers, folks at the home have plenty to look forward to in their golden years.
The Silver Jubilee Home for the Aged incurs about RM100,000 in monthly expenses. They survive on public donations and welfare support. Requests for public donation items are always updated on their website. To donate or support the home in any way, call +604 644 7942 or visit www.silverjubileehome.org.
Azalia Zaharuddin is a parttime writer who graduated from Kagawa University, specialising in Japanese Language. She is currently pursuing her Masters in Translation at Universiti Sains Malaysia so that she and char koay teow
never have to be apart again.
Ooi Kok Hin is an INTP who lives to write and writes to live. Follow him at www.facebook.com/ooikokhin.