I am currently reading Christine Bryden’s biography about her struggle for the voices of dementia patients to be heard, at both national and international level. There are so many parallels between her struggle and my own for the voices of older people to be heard at the same levels. It’s frightening in a way that here are 2 really important areas where the voices of the real experts are being silenced. To me it raises questions about the calibre of the people in each area who are doing the silencing.

At the conference in India I attended recently I challenged one of the (young) organisers of a reception put on by the American organisation AARP about why it was being put on by young people (particularly as it was up 3 flights of steep steps!). Her response was that they really cared for older people and turned away to talk to someone else (who presumably didn’t ask awkward questions!). If they really care why do they take over from us, instead of enabling us to run events ourselves? My suspicion, from experience of the Australian scene, is that they have found a niche area, previously neglected, in which they can advance their own careers, something not possible in other fields. The frightening part is that AARP claims to have 38 million members. Are all these people so less capable than the current organisers that they have to have it done for them? I think not.

The same situation occurs here in Australia. Neither of the 2 major (government subsidised) organisations which purport to represent older people are run by older people (over 65) and neither of them seem to even employ many people in this age group. No wonder the ageing population is seen as a problem, not a blessing, when our voices are being silenced. My suggestion is that if groups such as this want to be given government grants then they must show that at least 80% of their paid staff are over 65.

I was told a couple of years ago that a group of older people in Europe is trying to set up an organisation to represent older people, and run by older people. I hope that groups in other countries, including the U.S. and Australia will do the same. We aren’t going to advance the cause of older people unless we are given the opportunity to have our voices heard.

It’s good to know that those involved with Alzheimer’s disease are more open minded and are reserving seats on their international boards for the real experts, those who have the disease. Hopefully we older people will soon be able to make the same advance although there are no signs of it yet.