Last week I made a presentation about ageing to a group of older people. Previously people who listened to me were mainly professionals, either researchers in ageing or workers in the field of aged care. I was really surprised at the different reactions. The professionals, particularly researchers, often have little to do with older people and are interested to hear what the lives of older people in the community are like. Even the professionals working in the field of aged care are interested in hearing the story from the other point of view rather than the worker/patient one.

With the older people it was a different story. They are already familiar with what it is like to age and seem to relate to, and identify with, the reality. I mentioned that at one stage I attended a U3A class near where I live on either the psychology of ageing or the philosophy of it, I forget which. What I do remember is that the first thing we were asked to do was to write down a list of words which we felt other people applied to us. The list was long and included such words as ‘ selfish, incapable, forgetful’ etc. All the words on the list were negatives. When I show them on a slide the professional groups of both types look at them with interest as though it is a new experience for them to see the world through the eyes of older people. For the older audience it was a very different story. Seeing the world through the eyes of their contemporaries was a source of humour as they already know the reality of the situation but I suspect most of them, probably all, were new to seeing it written down so bluntly even though all the expressions were from fellow older people.

This is just another example of the gap between the younger people who are researching, and working, in the field of ageing and those who living it. Until we find a more efficient way of closing that gap our ageing population will continue to be regarded as a problem rather than the bonus I think it could be if regarded correctly, with the two groups working in partnership. I am sure the progress currently being made in recognition of the abilities and contribution disabled people can make to society wouldn’t be as successful if disabled people were excluded from the conversation. We need to follow suit with older people.

I can’t get over the fact that the fairly recent study into the volunteering work that older people do, in a study involving several European countries, failed to ask what volunteering we would like to do, presumably because older people were excluded from the research. The answer to this question I believe is the difference between older people being a problem and being a bonus.

Maybe the next generation working/studying in the field will be a bit more intelligent and see the gap. Otherwise we will continue to laugh at their approach and the gaps between us that they are unaware of.