By Kitchana Lersakvanitchakul
Retirement communities have been part and parcel of life in the West for decades, with facilities varying from the modest to the super luxurious depending on the means of the elderly residents. Thailand, like many other parts of Asia, has traditionally cared for its old as part of the extended family but with that protective social fabric now so stretched that it has worn thin, similar facilities have started to pop up in Thailand, though they remain few and far between.
With the number of elderly Thais set to jump to 13 million – or one fifth of the population – in four years time, healthcare groups are urging senior citizens to use their golden years to live life to the fullest.
“Thailand will shift into a fully-fledged ageing society by 2020 as the number of people older than 60 reaches more than 20 per cent,” says Dr Boon Vanasin, chairman of the Thonburi Healthcare Group, which manages the upmarket condominium complex for retirees Jin Wellbeing County in Pathum Thani.
“Elderly people need special care: 70 per cent experience depression. Some of them may perceive their lives to be less valuable, putting them at risk of depression and social isolation. Where they live with family members, they are often left alone in the house as the younger generation goes out to work. The luckier ones have hobbies such as playing music or reading books and that helps to pass the time. But most of all they need someone to talk to. That’s why Jin Wellbeing County aims to answer both physical and mental needs.
“In planning Jin Wellbeing County, we asked potential resi¬dents what they would do if they lived in the community. The answers were received varied. One person said he would take up music again after more than 20 years. Another welcomed the opportunity to read more books. And yet another was interested in seeing movies.
Jin Wellbeing County is the first residential project in Thailand to offer a full range of lifestyle and healthcare services for elderly people through a full range of facilities and services designed to meet specific needs of seniors wanting to live a dynamic life.
To illustrate the success of such an approach, the healthcare group has selected eight iconic figures – all of them over 60 – and asked them to serve as role models in its newly launched “Golden Spirit Gallery” campaign.
The campaign is being implemented in two parts. The first is an exclusive photo exhibition that shows the eight icons – Chek Thanasiri, Wanida Puangsunthorn, Suchao Pongwilai, Patravadi Mejudhon, Paothong Thongchua, Panarat Bunnag, Pusit “Pa Tuek” Pattanaprakarn and Paula Westerfield – demonstrating how they live their lives with golden spirit.
The exhibition, which has as its theme “The pursuit of golden spirit in retirement”, aims to inspire other retirees to realise that there are so many opportunities open to them after turning 60.
Panarat Bunnag enjoys a self-sufficient life.
Panarat, 67, the first runnerup in the 1970 Miss Thailand pageant and winner of the Miss Photogenic and Thai Chitralada Costume titles, is happy with her selfsufficient life.
“I’ve discovered real happiness. At my age I don’t feel like I should be labelled by society as a childminder for my grandchildren. I have three children aged 46, 44 and 24. The youngest, despite graduating from Chulalongkorn University’s fine and applied arts faculty, has turned her attention to agriculture, specifically organic farming. Today I work as a chef at our restaurant, Farm to Table, preparing dishes from the vegetables we grow. When you reach 60, you have every right to find happiness in your life. I told my daughter that she had to let me retire from being a mother so I could be selfsufficient and share my happiness with others.
Paula Westerfield enjoys every moment spent with her seven grandchildren.
Westerfield, 64, agrees. “My mother is Japanese and my father was American. He died of cancer at the age of 41 and never had the chance to see his grandchildren. I worked hard all my life and paid for it with my health. I wanted to live long enough to see my own grandchildren. In fact, I have never retired. Working keeps me energetic and happy. And by leading a healthy lifestyle, my biggest dream has come true and we now have seven beautiful grandchildren,” she says.
Suchao Pongwilai makes his childhood dream of long-distance cycling come true.
Suchao, 72, quit his acting career and hasn’t regretted it for a moment. He now has time to pursue his favourite hobby: cycling.
“As a child I always wanted to ride a bike. I started cycling seriously seven years ago and have worked up to 50 kilometres a day. On September 17, I’ll join other cyclists in riding from Chiang Mai to Lamphun to visit my friend, Inson Wongsam, a national artist in visual arts (sculpture). And I’d like to fulfil another childhood dream early next year – cycling 700 kilometres from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.”
Pusit Pattanaprakarn still works to a tight schedule.
Pusit beams with pride at being the oldest fashion icon in Thailand. Now 65, he maintains a busy schedule, modelling and serving as a presenter at several events.
“I would like to inspire other elderly people to dress up in order to look smart,” he says.
Chek Thanasin keeps healthy with a vegan diet and exercise.
Dr Chek Thanasiri, the first doctor in Thailand to focus on naturopathy, expects to live until he’s 120.
“I’m now 92 and sickness free because I exercise regularly. I have been a member of sport clubs for 61 years. Scientists believe that the limit to the human life span is 110 years but an elderly woman in Chiang Mai reached 122 years and an old Muslim man in Pattani didn’t die until he has 120. Everybody should take care of their health. It’s easy enough to do – don’t eat meat, only vegetables, and in small amounts. To those who disagree with me, I say look at Major General Chamlong Srimuang. He’s well over 70 and has eaten just one meal a day of vegetables and nuts for most of his life. General Saiyud Kerdphol eats only fruit. And both are still healthy.”
Paothong Thongchua intends working until the day he dies.
Paothong Thongchua, 61, is a lecturer at Chulachomklao Royal Military Academy and has been teaching at Chitralada School for 27 years.
“I am happy to work. I once told HRH Princess Sirindhorn of my intention to retire but changed my mind. Now I intend to work until I die.”
Wanida Puangsunthorn still works with passion.
National artist Wanida Puangsunthorn also feels that teaching keeps her young.
“I’ll turn 81 on December 5 and am still teaching at Silpakorn University’s architecture faculty despite being more than 20 years past retirement age. I love my career and work with passion. I also do design work for several temples and check on the construction. When I am doing what I love, I’m not stressed. It’s stress that causes health problems,” she says.
Patravadi Mejudhon dedicates her time to her school.
Another national artist Patravadi Mejudhon, 69, is known and admired for her role in performing arts and today runs the Patravadi School Hua Hin, which she set up when she was 60 aiming to use performance arts to help students develop self-responsibility, creativity and confidence.
“I have always had a very good life. My father was a clever scholar and honest civil servant, as my mother, who graduated in law, was a fighter who made a good living. I studied with good teachers throughout my whole life. I lived my life to the fullest when I was young. When I was getting old, I had good teachers to teach me the way to think. As we age, I think we should be useful to society rather than waiting aimlessly for death. All Thai people have good teachers such as the Buddha and His Majesty the late King. We should follow their example and be good teachers to others.”
The second part of the campaign is a photo contest for which members of the public are invited to submit photos of seniors living their lives with golden spirit. The images, along with the story behind them, must be uploaded to Facebook.com/jinwellbeing before October 15. The best entries will be rewarded with prizes totalling Bt300,000.