It worries me that whenever I am invited to a forum which discusses the needs of older people many of the other attendees seem to be people who have their own personal axe to grind and don’t seem to be very involved with, or interested in, the rest of the older community. They also don’t appear to think things through for themselves- they just repeat what they have heard, or misheard.

It happened to me again the other day. A varied group of older people were invited to a meeting to discuss planning for this region for the next few years. I’m not sure how many of the people attending came to be invited, including the lady who couldn’t speak English! One problem was that we were only provided with 3 very short questions which we weren’t obliged to stick to. One man connected together two very separate events, which had already been planned and had nothing to do with each other, to use one to oppose the other! Another used the meeting to express his displeasure at being called by his first name whenever he had to deal with the Government agency which provides his pension! Nothing to do with planning but all about his ego. If he were actually involved with something worthwhile, i.e. if he had a purpose in life, he wouldn’t have time to worry about his status.

This led me to think about how one does draw together a group of older people to represent all older people. The government tries to do this by choosing a Ministerial Advisory Council but the selection process for this seems to be faulty. I applied at one stage but a young woman in her 40’s was selected instead which to me which I felt was insulting. Her only knowledge of ageing was based on what she had read; she herself had no personal experience of ageing. One of my friends, who has done an enormous amount of work for older people in retirement villages, of which she is one, was selected one year and said that few of those elected turned up; in other words it is used as an ego trip.

I still don’t know the answer to this selection question. An obvious route to take would be to approach the two major groups which purport to represent us but my criticism of them is that from what I can gather they largely employ younger staff (they won’t actually provide the statistics which in itself is suspicious). To me this does not indicate a real commitment to older people. One of these organisations even used to pay younger researchers to write their policies (and may still do)! How insulting and how inaccurate. The only group which seems to really represent older people is the U3A. This is an organisation which is run entirely by older people for older people and is highly successful in this. If the branch I belong to is anything to go by it is growing rapidly, indicating its success. Its members would have the ability to represent us but unfortunately this is not their brief.

In the meantime I hope that other groups, including those that had representatives at the meeting I was invited to, would work out what their intention for older people is and make sure that those chosen as their representatives are really up to the job. We older people are a very valuable part of society and we need to be represented as such. To claim that we have had input based on this ragtag collection of older people is misleading.