Mrs Tan Lian Neo was warded for suspected delirium* a few months ago — and because the symptoms are similar to that of dementia, she was tested on her memory. Three items were listed for her to repeat. The next day, when asked to repeat the list, Mrs Tan not only named the three items correctly but to the nurses’ amusement, teased them if they needed help to come up with a new list.

This came from a woman who turned 100 last November. Mrs Tan joins a growing pool of centenarians in Singapore that grew by more than five times from 232 at end-2000, to 1,200 in June 2015. Singapore Department of Statistics figures also show that there are slightly more than 44,000 residents aged 85 and over in 2016.

But while the government implements policies and programmes for the ageing population, “life remains a struggle for many old Singaporeans,” United Nations human rights expert Rosa Kornfeld-Matte said during her visit here in October 2016. Other than financial hardship, Ms Kornfeld-Matte also highlighted elder abuse, which has been on the rise in recent years. Amid such circumstances, Mrs Tan stands out as a senior with good health and strong family support.

Born in 1916 in Singapore, then part of The Straits Settlements, Mrs Tan — who comes from a Peranakan family — was fortunate to receive an education as it was not common for girls then to be schooled. American missionaries had encouraged her mother to send her to school. She liked studying, was good in Mathematics and eventually became a teacher, and subsequently a principal.

Mrs Tan has taught at some institutions now long gone, such as Fairfield Methodist Girls’ School, Presbyterian Boys’ School and Braddell Rise School. She eventually retired to spend more time with her family. Her late husband was two years her senior and died when he was 83. The couple had four children (three sons and a daughter), two of whom she has outlived.

Related: Embracing The Golden Age

Fit as a Fiddle

Senior asian couple using a cellphone together

Her speech, delivered in a gentle and poised manner, is peppered with dialect and Malay phrases. The ex-educator remains sharp and logical except for the rare occasion when her delirium acts up, and she would get people and events mixed up.

It was only recently that Mrs Tan has required help in getting around, mainly from her domestic helper who is the key caregiver at home. Otherwise, her health record would put many who are decades younger than her to shame.

The centenarian has no major health issues such as cholesterol, hypertension or diabetes. “Her latest blood test results, according to her doctor, were ‘pristine’. Better than mine!” her son Samuel Tan, 75, quips.

She spends most of the time resting, and has meals four times a day. When she is awake (usually two hours at a stretch), Mrs Tan likes to watch tennis and snooker on television. Her god-daughter Sylvia Tan says that Mrs Tan figured how snooker is played through observing the game. She also watches home videos of celebrations like anniversaries and birthdays, and sings along to hymns and gospel songs.

Related: Leading Healthy And Happy Lives

Of Faith, Friends, Food and Fun

Senior asian friends having lunch together and bonding

“First thing I do when I open my eyes in the morning, I thank God for looking after me during the night,” Mrs Tan says. Her resilient faith is evident from how she attends church every Sunday without fail, and she has been hosting the same bible study group every week for the last 37 years. Mr Tan says his mother’s good-natured and generous nature means that “the door is always open to visitors” and she is able to “make friends easily with people of different ages”.

She has always encouraged his siblings and him to invite their friends home for a meal. Before she had to use a wheelchair, Mrs Tan would go out for lunch, usually with a group comprising her son, god-daughter, ex-colleague and friends. These days, they dine at her house where the group now gathers at least twice a month.

The ex-colleague, who was a teacher, fondly recalls Mrs Tan organising a “teachers’ meeting” once at her house. Instead of a formal discussion, they were all treated to a feast. Asked for her favourite dishes, Mrs Tan laughs, “Too many to mention!” Off the top of her head, she names raw salmon belly, her cousin’s egg tarts and ayam sioh (a Peranakan dish of chicken in tamarind and coriander gravy).

Contentment and a sense of humour contribute to Mrs Tan’s fruitful and healthy life. She advises not to bear grudges against anyone. “What for?” she says with a bright smile. Keeping to her own advice, she says, “I like to joke around. I am happy all the time.”

Related: Surprisingly Healthy Activities: Fun With Friends

Stay in Top Form

Senior man tying his shoelaces and getting ready for a run in a park

Dr Joanne Kua, Consultant, Centre for Geriatric Medicine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital offers these tips for the elderly to stay sharp.

  • Keep Mentally Active: Practise lifelong learning and do things that stimulate cognition like crossword puzzles and playing mahjong.
  • Remain Socially Active: Social engagements can prevent cognitive decline and maintain emotional health. Elderly persons should use hearing aids or glasses if these help them to interact more effectively.
  • Adopt Healthy Lifestyle Habits: These include eating a balanced diet with less salt, exercising, and cutting down on smoking and alcohol.
  • Being Mindful

Common health threats faced by those aged 70 and above are:

Cardiovascular Risk Factors

These include diabetes mellitus, hypertension and hypercholesterolaemia — these increase the elderly’s chance of getting a heart attack or stroke.

Cognitive Decline

The likelihood of getting dementia increases with age.

Falls and Osteoporosis

As bones and joints degenerate over time, the elderly is susceptible to falls which, if serious, can cause fractures and immobility.

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