Seniors living life on their own terms

Apart from keeping himself busy with household chores, Leong enjoys a game of Chinese chess on his smartphone.

THE long-standing issue of loneliness and feeling isolated among the elderly has been heightened by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The ageing process is hard on seniors as it is challenging for them and their sense of connection to the world.

For many, personal losses like the death of a spouse or lack of connection and communication with their children, relatives and friends affects them emotionally.

Eighty-one-year-old Leong Ah Kai @ Leong Kwee Sing, 81, felt an irreplaceable void in his life when his wife passed away three years ago.

The Covid-19 pandemic, lockdown and restrictions that followed made it even worse as he was unable to reach out to anyone for help initially.

There was hardly any communication with his four children, he said.

Leong said he used to rent out rooms in his two-storey house in Taman Pelangi, Johor Baru, to office, restaurant and factory workers who commuted to Singapore daily as the residential area was near the Causeway.

Lee cooking a soup of herbs and vegetables for herself and her housemates. — Photos: THOMAS YONG/The StarLee cooking a soup of herbs and vegetables for herself and her housemates. — Photos: THOMAS YONG/The Star

“Since March last year and the border closure after the pandemic, no one rented the rooms at my house except for an 88-year-old woman who usually stays in her room.

“Under the circumstances, I too was indoors most of the time and had to skimp on food because I had no incoming rental or any other source of income,” he told StarMetro.

Leong said he tried to keep busy by cleaning and doing household chores, and even started playing Chinese chess on his smartphone.

“When I was younger, I was always busy working and taking care of my family.

“There was no time to relax and play Chinese chess, but I get to enjoy the game now that I have so much free time.

“I also try not to overthink or delve into past issues because it will only make me unhappy and cause more of my hair to turn grey,” he quipped.

In the last few months, Leong managed to let out rooms to two elderly women. He can now pay his bills and have proper meals with the incoming rental.

“From a house that was bustling with young, single tenants, it is now a home for lonely, elderly people,” said the senior citizen.

One of his tenants, who wanted to be known only as Lee, 70, said she decided to move out from her family home in Kluang.

“I have four children but all of them have their own lives, so it is better for me to be on my own.

“I feel happier staying here. I spend my day watching television and doing some light exercises as I suffer from high blood pressure and diabetes.

“I also cook different dishes and soups daily such as herbal chicken soup, white radish soup and corn soup for everyone in the house to enjoy,” she said, adding that she planned to plant vegetables in the house compound soon.

Chang spends her days listening to the radio and reminiscing about the good old days.Chang spends her days listening to the radio and reminiscing about the good old days.

Another tenant, Chang Choi Yok, 88, said she had been happy as a housewife tending to her household and husband.

However, the situation changed in 1998 after her husband passed away from an illness.

Realising that she was unable to keep her house and make ends meet, Chang decided to rent a room at Leong’s place. It has been her home for the past 17 years.

“I have no children and I do not have any close relatives.

“I spend my days listening to the radio in my room.

“Some of the songs bring back old memories and I reminisce about the good old days.

“Having other tenants around makes me feel less lonely and I am comfortable living in a spacious house,” she said, adding that the last time she went out was to receive the Covid-19 vaccination a few months ago.

One of Leong’s tenants, Myeoh Ah Eng, 65, sweeping up dried leaves in the garden.One of Leong’s tenants, Myeoh Ah Eng, 65, sweeping up dried leaves in the garden.

Meanwhile, Covid-19 survivor Quek Ah Gee has gone through some tough experiences.

The 67-year-old, who tested positive for the virus, was admitted to Hospital Sultanah Aminah for about 50 days from early August to late last month.

“My condition was aggravated because I have asthma. The virus caused me to experience breathing difficulties, heart palpitations and loss of taste.

“I thought I might not be able to make it and even made preparations for my own funeral as I am a bachelor and have no family,” he said when met at his rented room in a three-storey shophouse along Jalan Wong Ah Fook in downtown Johor Baru.

Quek said he was homeless and slept on the street for about two years after losing his job as a driver.

“Later, I found a job washing dishes at a restaurant which helped pay for my rented room,” he said, adding that when the pandemic hit last year, he was again left jobless after the restaurant closed down.

He now depends on Welfare Department’s RM500 monthly allowance to survive.

The senior citizen added that he could still feel the after-effects of Covid-19 as he was tired from just taking a few steps out of his room.

“I cannot walk up and down the stairs like before and I depend on an oxygen concentrator. Stulang assemblyman Andrew Chen helped to get me the device.

“Thankfully as well, a kind-hearted neighbour too has offered to help me with my meals. Otherwise I will only be able to afford instant noodles,” said Quek.

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elderly , Covid-19 , pandemic


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