SINGAPORE: Is beating old age as simple as reliving your younger days?
Somewhere in Tanglin, in a house retrofitted in more than one sense of the word, is an intriguing social experiment being conducted to find out just that.
Five Singaporeans between the ages of 74 and 78 are spending a week living together in a colonial bungalow that has been furnished to recreate the 1970s - down to the furniture, television set, vinyl records, Milo tins, and newspapers and magazines of the day.
This time-travelling experiment aims to take the seniors back to a period - specifically, 1977 - in their heyday. It seeks to see if the environment, coupled with activities to reconnect them with their younger, fitter selves, can actually reverse the effects of ageing.
The study is being conducted by Channel NewsAsia producers for the documentary Turn Back The Clock, which is scheduled to air in January 2017.
It is based on the work of Harvard University psychology professor Ellen Langer who has for decades posited the link between mind and body, or “mindful health”.
In the first landmark “counterclockwise” study in 1979, elderly men seemed to grow younger - mentally, physically - after living for a week as though they were 20 years younger, in 1959.
Asmah Laili, 76, former deejay and television host
Midway through the re-staging of that experiment in Singapore, the participants - who moved in last Wednesday (Sep 14) - are already feeling the effects.
“I feel great. I've already forgotten my wheelchair,” said Madam Asmah Laili, 76, a former deejay and television host.
Her fellow housemates are painter Harry Chin, 74; former army officer Nancy Tan, 74; former FIFA referee Nadasen Chandra, 75; and Krishnavani Narayanan, 78, former deejay and actress.
Watch: We tour the house and meet its guests
Over the course of the week, the five seniors are being roped in to do daily exercises; asked to organise activities (such as the farewell party at the end of their stay); as well as nudged to lead more independent lives.
They are also coaxed to do some things they think they can no longer do, such as teach youngsters to dance.
Mr Chandra was asked to step into his refereeing shoes again at a game. “I was scared. It has been so long since I've officiated a match,” he said. But it was “the best experience so far, apart from the exercises”, he added.
At the end of the week, the seniors will repeat a battery of tests - conducted by doctors, geriatricians and psychologists - to measure any improvement in their memory, balance, flexibility and walking speed.
Ms Tan, who was the first female captain in the Singapore Armed Forces, said: “I like the morning exercises the best here. It allows us to compete with one another. It's like my fighting spirit has come back to me.”
Nadasen Chandra, 75, a former FIFA referee
For the five septuagenarians, it has also proved a heady nostalgic trip back to yesteryear. They got to watch Singapore winning the Malaysia Cup Final as if it were today, as well as the 1977 National Day Parade.
Even the participants’ personal bedrooms from the 1970s were recreated as much as possible, and furnished with mementos of their career achievements.
Series executive producer Sharon Hun noted that Singapore is ageing faster than most countries in the world. “I think it’s critical we start examining our attitudes towards the elderly. How can we help them age gracefully?”
“Our country is on track to provide more healthcare facilities and elderly-friendly infrastructure, yet we might be missing something crucial - the wellbeing of the mind. In helping our elderly, are we helping them into helpless-ness?” she said.
Ms Hun hopes that when it goes to air in January 2017, Turn Back the Clock will “start a conversation about how we really want to grow old here”.