Successful Ageing

Brain gain

Madam Katherine Chua keeps her mind sharp by joining a programme that promotes bonding between youth and seniors

For Madam Katherine Chua, leading a healthy lifestyle is more than just staying in shape and making better food choices.

The 59-year-old gives her brain a workout as well, twice a week.

She learnt the mental exercises at an Intergenerational Learning Programme (ILP), organised by Temasek Polytechnic (TP) in collaboration with the Council for Third Age.

The ILP is offered under the National Silver Academy.It encourages bonding between youth and seniors through the exchange of knowledge in a group-learning environment, and also promotes active living by enhancing mental and social well-being among seniors.

A friend encouraged Madam Chua to sign up for the programme, which was held last October. Called Brain Gym, it saw 11 senior participants matched with students.

"I was worried it would be difficult to communicate with the youth due to the generation gap, but they turned out to be open to listening, and were responsive," says Madam Chua.

During the workshop, the students guided her and the other seniors on the use of a brain-training mobile app called Mindworks.

The app is jointly developed by TP's Centre for Applied Gerontology, its School of Informatics & IT and Japan's Tohoku University. It has six games, which involve memory, logic, attention and mathematical calculation - aimed at activating the brain's pre-frontal areas to improve cognitive performance and function, such as decision-making and problem-solving.

Madam Chua also took part in a "mini sports carnival", playing ball games which help maintain and enhance motor skills. "It was satisfying to give my brain and body a workout," she says.

After the workshop, she installed the Mindworks app on her mobile device to continue playing the games. The mother of two, who started working at 18, left her job in administrative support four years ago due to health issues and stress.

Her mother-in-law has dementia and is in a nursing home. This has sparked an interest in Madam Chua to keep her mind active as she ages. She also plans to sign up for courses in caregiving for the elderly.

Having young people as friends and exchanging views with them have helped her in her relationships with her children.

She has a 28-year-old son, and a 31-year-old daughter who is married with two children and lives in Australia.

She says: "Young people can get caught up with studies, work and life. As seniors, we need to be more patient and less judgmental. Now, I try to see my children through the eyes of a young person."

Mr Keith Zheng, 23, a second-year student involved in the workshop, says: "It is inspiring to meet retirees who keep active and don't let age stop them from pursuing their interests and contributing to society in other ways such as through volunteer work."

Ms Julie Spencer, course manager and lecturer for TP's diploma course in Gerontological Management Studies, says: "For older people, engaging in a learning programme can slow cognitive decline, enhance memory, lift depression levels, as well as promote activity and productivity."

• For more details on learning a new skill, go to or call the National Silver Academy hotline on 6478-5029.

• This series is an initiative under the Action Plan for Successful Ageing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 25, 2018, with the headline 'Brain gain'. Print Edition | Subscribe