FTER writing a book about ageing, Dr Kan-
waljit Soin has been thinking more about
“I probably thought a bit more about death also be-
cause my late mother, who had dementia, was living
with me,” says the 76-year-old first-time author. Her
mother died last October at the age of 96.
“It was not in a negative way, more about thinking
about death as part of living and how, while we’re
alive, we should not postpone thinking about it.”
Dr Soin, an orthopaedic and hand surgeon, is Singa-
pore’s first female Nominated Member of Parliament.
She is the founding president of Wings, a non-profit or-
ganisation that aims to help women embrace ageing,
and one of the founding members of the Association
of Women for Action and Research (Aware).
Her book, Silver Shades Of Grey: Memos For Suc-
cessful Ageing In The 21st Century, was launched last
week. It discusses different aspects of ageing, such as
physical, emotional and mental health, philosophies
and proverbs about ageing, employment, finances,
sexuality, death and ageism.
Married to a former High Court judge who now
works as a consultant in a legal firm, Dr Soin has three
sons, all in their 40s, and eight grandchildren.
Her widowed mother preferred to live on her own
until she had dementia. Madam Satwant Kaur moved
in with Dr Soin, who has three younger brothers, and
was with her for the last three years of her life.
“My mother had a good death. I was next to her.
It’s something we should all hope for, though we can’t
always plan for it,” Dr Soin says.
Having a loved one with dementia can be difficult,
but Dr Soin had some consolation as a caregiver.
“Towards the end, my mother thought I was her
mother or sister. Initially, it was painful, but after a
while, it didn’t matter to me. She recognised me as
someone who loved her,” says Dr Soin, adding that
she felt privileged to be able to care for her mother.
“Somebody asked me why I was so upset when she
died, when she did not even recognise me. But I know
that she’s my mother. Although dementia may be dis-
tressing for relatives, maybe it’s a way for individuals
to slowly give up connections to the world and want-
ing to hang on to worldly possessions.”
Her mother used to like her gold bangles, but when
she had dementia, she no longer asked where her jew-
ellery or best clothes were.
Dr Soin says: “She just wanted someone to love
her. When you hugged her, she would smile. When
you held her hand, she would kiss it.”
There is only a brief mention of Dr Soin’s mother’s
dementia in her book, but she is also interested in its
wider implications. For instance, she cites research
into a fondness for slapstick humour when one is
older, shifting from a habitual liking for satirical hu-
mour, as this may be an early sign of Alzheimer’s dis-
ease. She advocates policy changes such as doing
away with a mandatory retirement age, with many se-
niors ageing more healthily these days.
A “linear life course”, in which studying is fol-
lowed by working life, then retirement, “doesn’t al-
low you to make the most of your life”, she adds.
A more “cyclical” conception would allow people
to reinvent themselves by training for different ca-
reers as they grow older, as well as grant them the flexi-
bility to, for example, have children early, before en-
tering the workforce in their 30s.
Dr Soin has sought to bring an “Asian focus” to her
book, for example, by discussing topics such as the im-
pact of haze on older people, as well as how air pollu-
tion contributes to the risk of having a stroke.
— VENESSA LEE
Now an author... Orthopaedic surgeon Dr Kanwaljit Soin
with her book, Silver Shades Of Grey: Memos For Successful
Ageing In The 21st Century.
Dr Kanwaljit Soin writes book
on various aspects of ageing
Silver shades of life