Tending the mind
CAPTAIN Ho Weng Toh is all of 91 years but the WWII bomber pilot is not about to end his love affair with life. He still flies around the world, “not from inside the cockpit now”, but seated inside passenger jets – to meet old friends and explore exotic places.
“I was just in the United States visiting my squadron mate Howard Halla. He is also 91. We were in the unit known as The Flying Tigers. There were between 15 and 20 of us then. Today, only four of us are left,” said Malaysian-born Capt Ho, who became a Singapore citizen in the 1970s.
The Flying Tigers unit was the first American wing of the Chinese Air Force, and its Curtiss P-40 fighter – with its distinctive shark-faced air intake – is still among the most recognisable warplanes of WWII vintage.
Capt Ho joined the military by chance. He was a student at Sun Yat Sen University in China when war broke out.
“I spotted an ad in the campus papers looking for bomber pilots. I put in my application but felt that since I was short in stature, I would not be picked. I got picked,” he said, laughing.
He never looked back. In fact, his life after that reads like a script for an epic war movie.
His stints included Lahore in Punjab for basic flight training. He then shipped out to Colorado in the United States for more advanced flying for a year before heading to California to await assignments.
It was not long before he returned to China, first to Guilin, then Wuhan, to fight the war on the side of the Chinese.
It was during his year in Colorado that Capt Ho fell in love for the first time.
“She was an American but nothing came out of that relationship. Nothing could, since I was off to China to fight a war,” he said wistfully. They never met again but he recently visited her grave when he was back there.
After the war, he stayed in Wuhan as a trainer for the Chinese air force before leaving to become a commercial pilot in Shanghai.
It was there that he met and married his wife, Augusta Rodrigues, after courting her for three years.
In 1951, Capt Ho moved his family to Singapore where he worked as a commercial pilot. Later, in the late 1950s, he helped train a pool of local pilots for the fast-growing airline industry.
“It was at Paya Lebar Airport. We didn’t have flight simulators then. I trained them on the runway, and we made about 35 landings every day,” he said with much pride in his voice.
For a man who has led such an exciting life, he found it “rather trying” when he retired at the age of 60.
“I was both a trainer and an examiner just before I retired. That meant I was soaring high, then suddenly plummeting to ground zero with not even a private flying licence. It was hard for me.”
So, to keep his epic story going “for a couple more episodes”, Capt Ho dove headlong into sports – playing golf, as well as tennis, three times a week.
He also started travelling and visiting friends scattered all over the world. On his travels, he would explore the less trodden paths. In August, for example, he visited Shun Tak in China, where his ancestors were from.
His activities kept him extremely busy until five years ago, when he contracted a bad bout of pneumonia, which weakened him physically. “I was afraid I’d fall and hurt myself so I decided to take it easy. Today, I just swim or play billiards or snooker.”
To keep his mind active, the father of three and grandfather of two not only plays bridge with friends, but also uses e-mail and his smartphone to stay in touch with loved ones.
“People I meet often ask what is my secret to a long and healthy life. I don’t have one, really. No secret, no formula of sorts, not even a recipe. I believe I am not disciplined enough,” Capt Ho said.
But his older son Fred, 61, a retired administrator, said: “My dad’s secret formula actually is having a positive attitude towards everything and everyone, and having a great love for life.” – The Straits Times, Singapore/Asia News Network “I DON’T think there really is such a thing as a casual gardener,” says occupational therapist Rose Deskavich from Greenfield, Massachussetts, the United States.
Deskavich has been developing methods to assist people with various age-related ailments, so they can enjoy their gardening hobby – or passion. “People have a strong tie to gardening. It’s a loss when you can’t do it physically or mentally,” she adds.
The easiest and most adaptable way to work with someone who has memory limitations is to create lists and charts, she suggests. Create a calendar to designate days when watering, weeding or harvesting should be done. “Make lots of lists. The key is referring to the lists.”
As memory impairment increases, it becomes essential to have a partner to assist with gardening.
“You need to have someone to guide them. You can’t just tell someone (who is memory impaired) to go over there and weed that portion of the garden. He won’t remember by the time he gets there.”
The gardening partner goes over what needs to be done and stays with the person during the project. Deskavich recommends the mentor approach: “You tell him, ‘Do what I’m doing.’”
The partner also needs to be very consistent, giving specific step-by-step directions. “For example, you might tell him to just pick the red vegetables.”
The overall experience of gardening, the bright colours, having your hands in the dirt, the associated sounds and the strong smells trigger positive sensory experiences and memories.
“Even auditory things like having a wind chime in the garden is great sensory stimulation. Water fountains are also great and very soothing,” she says.
Gardening brings a sense of not only relaxation, but a sense of achievement. “They can look back at that tomato or carrot they grew and cared for and have a sense of accomplishment,” Deskavich says.
But, you do have to watch them in terms of hydration or too much sun. It is also better to work on gardening projects in the morning or early part of the day. “People (with memory impairment) function better in the mornings. They are clearer and have more memories intact.”
According to the Alzheimer’s Association, gardening is also an effective stress reducer for those who are caregivers for loved ones who have memory impairment. – © McClatchy-Tribune News Service