Yesterday I attended a one day conference which was described as an aged care dialogue. It involved many of the top Australian researchers in the field (plus a couple of overseas ones) but I got the impression the dialogue was just intended to be among themselves, and was not intended to include people involved in the area or, heaven forbid, actual aged people.

The only person I found impressive was the Minister who not only gave a good presentation but had obviously gone around the country talking to older people, listening to them and learning from them. I get really cranky that our views are rarely asked for either by the researchers or the government staff employed in this area. It reminded me that I once presented a paper at a conference on ageing. I suggested that researchers should be working alongside older people (I’d already come across a couple of projects where this had happened and it resulted in much better research). The president-elect of the organisation who had organised the conference stood up and opposed the suggestion and added ‘Where will we get these older people from’. I told this story to an older farmer friend of mine who said in a lovely rustic drawl ‘has she tried opening her eyes’. It sounds as though too much research can be bad for you!

I pointed out to the Minister that he went around listening to the voices of older people but researchers tended not to and they should. He wasn’t prepared to say more than that it was a valid point. The trouble is that it is the researchers who contribute to policy and we older people need to be more vocal if our voices are to be heard otherwise policy will be made which doesn’t fit either us or our needs. In her talk the First Assistant Secretary, Ageing and Aged Care Division, Department of Health and Ageing, made the comment that even though she has intimate knowledge of the system she had difficulty finding accommodation for her parents last year. If people of that rank and with all that knowledge have problems then how are the rest of us going to fare, particularly if those doing the research and hence contributing to policy don’t talk to us, the users, so that we can get things changed to meet our needs. I would have thought that that was what aged care in particular should be about, not just academics having cosy chats amongst themselves.

This is why I think it is really important that older people over 65 become a loud voice. For those who don’t like speaking out in public I hope that this blog site will become a place where people can air their views. I’ll read them and bear them in mind next time someone at a conference asks ‘Does anyone have any questions?’. We older people certainly do.