“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.”
- Mark Twain
Editor and founder of Ageless Online and Ageless Voice, managing editor of SALT (part of the National Volunteer & Philanthropy Centre)
Managing editor of Humanity Magazine & freelance writer
Website: http://www.agelessonline.net/, http://agelessvoice.net/
As the editor and founder of Ageless Online and Ageless Voice, Eleanor is a one-woman dynamo – aside for a handful of volunteers, she handles the operation of the websites completely on her own, and with no income. “I work too hard,” she acknowledges, “but I feel like I need to do this.”
It is this conviction that Eleanor has built one of the most comprehensive e-magazines for seniors, Ageless Online. Here seniors can read articles on health, finance and products specially catered towards their age demographic; and the topics of these articles range from how to prevent cyber crime attacks to handling widowhood and financial planning. The e-magazine also features seniors who redefine ageing through remarkably active lifestyles, and who serve as an inspiration to the young and old alike.
Aside from the online magazine, Eleanor also runs the blog Ageless Voice, where experts in the ageing sector can share their opinions and ideas on various issues affecting our elderly today. From Hong Kong to Europe, from senior volunteerism to elderly care, the blog serves as both a source of information as well as a touch point of communication for the concerns of the elderly all around the world. As Eleanor explains the blog concept: “It is a chance for different countries who are ahead of the ageing sector to share with those who are still lagging behind, and a chance for them not to reinvent the wheel.”
In person, there is an effusive, enthusiastic quality to Eleanor’s voice, accentuated by the sprightliness of her movements and mannerisms. She is eloquent and generous with emotion, never hesitating to let out a big laugh or a string of curses in the midst of telling an anecdote. Whether serious or on the brink of laughter, Eleanor is, for lack of a better word, alive,full of unabashed forthrightness and a certain golden energy. To her, life is just that – it’s about living. The prospect of death is one that everyone faces, but even its proximity should not be a reason to stop living life and doing things the way you want to. “This is my gift to Singapore,” she smiles, and in many ways, Ageless Online is a gift. It is a gift of positivity, of hope and of life. It is the message that everyone is ageless, and it is your passion for life that truly counts.
You have two websites – Ageless Online and Ageless Voice, and you’re also the managing editor of Salt Online. Any other hats you wear?
I am also the managing editor for Humanity Magazine, and I do some freelance projects here and there. But the whole thing with the elderly sector came first. I started working in the elderly sector about 11 to 12 years ago. I was the editor of a senior’s magazine, and I remember it fondly because it was a great position. I was working on it for about a year and a half, and a number of the staff were all very young. The owners and the management decided to can it after that, and we were all saddened when that happened. You might think one and a half years is no big deal, but I was very affected. I think I really bonded with the team, and the things that we did were quite amazing. It was very community-based, and it was interesting to see that we could really help the community we lived in. I learnt a lot, I got to meet so many people, and it really touched me. I will always remember that job as one of the best jobs I have had.
In the five years after I left that magazine, weirdly enough somebody would bring up starting a magazine for seniors. It was like as if the man up there was telling me that I should be doing something on this. On the fifth year [which was around 2006] I met a lady who wanted to start a senior’s magazine. I jumped on the opportunity. I don’t have any business sense, so I don’t know what I was thinking at the time. Or maybe I wasn’t – I just said sure, let’s go into business together. The partnership didn’t work out and in 2008, I decided to let something that I really cared about go. It was a very tough decision but something that I had to do.
Then in 2009, someone asked me to start a magazine again. Stupid, right? But I guess I really missed it, and I love working and interacting in this area of work. I thought, why not, let’s do it. But I couldn’t do a magazine because I couldn’t afford it, so the next logical step was to do it online. There are, of course, different pros and cons to doing it online. It’s always tricky. I got a subsidy from the IDA, and they basically shaved off 2K from my website’s start-up cost. I paid everything else. When I went into it, I thought I could still do the things I did with the previous magazine, and I would still have the support I received when I was the editor and founder of a print magazine. But I guessed wrong. I learnt the hard way that it doesn’t work that way. Because I don’t own a magazine, it’s a totally different ballgame.
Now that I’ve gone online, my reach is very different. My audience is also different. When you operate a website, it’s not as easy getting people to read you as compared to a magazine. However, I reach out to a much wider audience than I’ve ever reached out to before. There are pros and cons to it. Being online has helped me to reach out beyond Singapore, and to many different people. I have an 80-year-old woman, a syndicated writer from the US, who writes for me. I even got connected to a Singaporean in London who read one of my articles!
Wait … and these seniors, they can all use the Internet?
See that’s a myth. That was true a long time ago, but not anymore. Although the number is small now, it’s definitely going to grow. Keep in mind that you and I will both age, and we will know the Internet. Also people were not so open to talking about ageing before, but people are much more open to it now. When I started the print magazine, people thought I was crazy. But in 2006, when PM Lee came on TV and talked about ageing, suddenly I became the smartest person. The people that basically laughed at me when I gave them the magazine, are now involved in the ageing sector. It’s very interesting how things have evolved over the years.
This issue about ageing is a universal issue. It affects everybody. Even if you’re young now, you’re still going to have to come face-to-face with ageing, as you might have to look after your parents. It’s an area that is very personal to me, and I’ve learnt so much. I’ve been looking at the numbers – the graph used to be in a pyramid, meaning that there were more young people forming the bottom half. The pyramid has now turned upside down, and the young will be the minority, while the old the majority. People don’t get it, and they need to wake up and smell the roses because it’s coming. No matter how much you want to fight it.
But we don’t have to look at it as a burden. It presents a lot of challenges to the country, but I think there are a lot of very interesting things that are coming up, and huge amounts of opportunities. That being said, don’t be too opportunistic. At the end of the day, we need to be looking at something that is beneficial to the country and the community. We need to have some heart doing this. I have noticed a lot of young people coming into this sector, and I always tell them that it’s going to take a while before they start to make money. And it’s not easy. You won’t make huge amounts of money overnight. It’s going to take you several years, and if you survive the several years, money will come. It won’t be immediate. Somehow, you better be doing something else on top of this, or else you won’t be able to sustain yourself.
So I don’t think we’re ahead as a country. I think Japan is way ahead, I think the US is hugely ahead, and the people in these countries know stuff. I don’t know if everything can be used here because our cultures are different, but I think there’s a lot to be learnt and that’s why my blog came about. It is still a work in progress and something I am trying to fine-tune.
I have gone through so much frustration with my site. Staying up late each week, balancing my other work, harnessing volunteers, asking people to collaborate, etc. But I guess no matter what, you’ve got to come back to why you did it. I know why I’m here. I’m here for the seniors and I am here to advocate for the seniors. Making huge amounts of money never even crossed my mind when I started doing this work. I wanted to make a point by doing this site. I wanted to show people that seniors are evolving. That age is just a number. Everyone is so hung up about this number – but geez, everybody, if they’re lucky, will age. It is inevitable. It’s really up to you and what you do in your life.
I have interviewed a 71-year-old woman who is a DJ in the UK. These things are more common now then they’ve even been before. Maybe our great grandparents would have never done things like that. But the people today are different. My mother ran a 10km marathon at age 70 and she was running marathons even earlier. You might think it’s crazy now, but when we get up there we’ll want to do that too. I don’t think it’s crazy, I think it’s great. The seniors have set these precedents, and because of that many more things have been opened up to us. They’ve laid out such a great foundation. As we age, it’ll be so much easier. I’m proud of them.
I wanted to show people that seniors are evolving. That age is just a number. Everyone is so hung up about this number – but geez, everybody, if they’re lucky, will age. It is inevitable. It’s really up to you and what you do in your life.
What are the main problems that our seniors face today, or will face in the future?
You will soon see more single seniors. And this is going to be a big issue. They don’t have family members to look after them. I’m going to be one of them. It’s not that much of a problem now, because most of our seniors have children and spouses to look after them, but that’s not going to be the norm in the future. The growing ageing population will put pressure on our healthcare system, and it will be very trying for the low-income seniors. They’re looking at increasing the number of nursing homes and eldercare facilities now, which will be crucial over the years. Another worrying issue is Alzheimer’s disease and the increasing numbers, as well as cancer.
Disabled elderly will also face a lot of problems. Are we barrier-free? I don’t think so. Some of the buses and places are handicap-friendly, but there needs to be more of that. We need to be an inclusive society.
How far do you think our government is now in addressing all these issues?
I think they know these issues are there, but I don’t think they’re quite there yet in terms of addressing all of the issues. Our government’s current policies are focused on wellness, meaning disease prevention, which is important. They’re trying to get them to exercise more and watch what they eat, so that they won’t have problems with health issues. That’s also what I’ve been trying to do, and we need to keep pushing this stuff. But that’s not the only thing that they should be focusing on.
Recently I went to an ageing conference, and they talked about retirement communities. We don’t have a retirement village here because the cost is too high, but I think it will soon come out. There’s also this whole thing in Chinese culture about filial piety. We don’t want to put our parents in homes. But homes nowadays are changing. They look superb, so modern – I want to be there. Nowadays we’re forced to relook at the environment of a nursing home. The seniors that are coming up are now more discerning, more fluent, more educated. These people want more, so it’s making the whole sector change and evolve. What is working now may not work in 10 years. I swear, if I go into a nursing home in the future and they frigging make me play Bingo, I’ll scream at those people. I’m not playing no Bingo. (laugh)
What do you think about Singaporean attitudes towards seniors?
All it takes for you to see that is to go down to the MRT or take a bus. I think it’s improved a little bit, but we’re not totally gracious. It was worse a long time ago. But I guess the bigger thing here is that people are often not even thinking about seniors, or ageing. Because they’re young. It’s far from everybody’s mind. Ageing? What ageing? Nobody really bothers about it until it really hits them. We’re just so hung up about other things. People need to reflect, and stop. They’re just going too fast, and I think that’s going to affect their health. I see so many people with regrets, and I always think, well you already know this. Then just stop already. We want so many things, but do we really need them?
Recently there’s been some news of the building of an elderly care centre in Bishan, and some residents have been up in arms about it. The comments they made really reflect a social problem we are having. We have become a “me” society, and that’s just sad. We need to care about the people around us. It baffles me – do the people who said some of the horrible comments not think that they will also age and need the facilities?
How has your work with seniors affected you?
I’ve learnt so much from doing interviews with these seniors. I love sitting down and talking to them. I think more people need to do that. I learn about Singapore’s past, I learn about their own lives and what they love. I guess in a lot of ways, it’s made me realise that I need to have more of a work-life balance. And I need to do the things I can and want to do because life can actually go by so fast. I think we need to live our lives to the fullest, and with no regrets.
That’s why I believe that I don’t want to be 50 and saying “I should have done this”. I’m going to just do it. I’ve made a bucket list. Next year, hopefully, I’ll get to attend a Madonna concert – bloody hell, I’m going to see Madonna even it kills me. This year I decided to go overseas and volunteer. I’ve never done that before, I’ve never been to Sri Lanka, so it was a huge, huge thing. I went on my own and I did it. I’m just blessed. All my experiences have made me who I am today, and I’m glad I could do this. When you have a roof over your head and don’t have to worry about your next meal, you need to see yourself as lucky and give a helping hand to those in need.
Do you have any advice for our Singaporean youth?
I think they should really consider doing stuff for the elderly. Either doing businesses focusing on the elderly, or tracing their family roots. Get to know their grandparents. Spend some more time with their grandparents. Because once they’re gone, all the history is gone with them. There are a lot of learning opportunities on both sides.
– Profiled by Natalee Ho