Reforms to our view of ageing and aged care are promised for the future but will it be the full and necessary change in attitude and approach? I am skeptical.

The more horrors that are being revealed in the current system suggest that we are blissfully ignorant about what ageing could be like in a more intelligent and caring world.

Two memories trigger this feeling. The first was when I became aware that our hunter/ gatherer ancestors had no choice but to leave their elderly behind, with supplies of food and water, when they could no longer keep up with the travels of the group. Today we isolate our elderly, leaving them with strangers, when there is even a slight chance they will succumb to an illness which may or may not be fatal. We haven’t progressed very far when it comes to being more intelligent in the way we treat our elderly. I suspect the problem comes from the good profits that can be made today from the aged care industry.

The second contributor to my despondency is the lack of consultation with older people when the decision was taken to lock them up (referred to as ‘lock them down’ to hide the horror of the decision). I’ve already mentioned the current majority choice was for this not to happen if our older relatives had been given a choice. The horror of being isolated from family and friends, and for many also dying alone, is hard to accept as human behavior, when there are more humane choices.

It doesn’t help to remember that over 100 years ago women were fighting for equality. Conferences on the issue were held, run by men, with male speakers and a few token women in the audience. As a parallel today’s conferences on ageing are run by younger people, with young speakers and perhaps a few token older people in the audience. The sad part is that the youngsters running these functions don’t realise that what they know about ageing is largely learned from textbooks- and they haven’t actually experienced it themselves, any more than when men spoke about, but hadn’t experienced, women’s issues. So called experts on ageing don’t acknowledge that the only real experts in the field are the elderly.

If we are to avoid a repeat of the current horrific behavior towards older people, in which they are separated from those most important to them, often left to die with strangers, we need to listen to them, the real experts, about what they want for themselves, not what the self-acclaimed experts think they need.

With annual conferences on ageing currently being arranged, organisers need to be aware of what they are doing. There are currently two deterrents to conferences being really representative debates on ageing. Older people don’t attend because most have neither the physical ability to travel large distances nor necessarily the money to do so, and therefore are excluded from them. We are left with conferences on ageing without the ageing. I suspect that those who follow in our footsteps will be horrified to find that we seriously regard these conferences as truly representative of the debate on ageing. For the vast number of today’s conference attendees, the only knowledge they have of ageing is what they have read. A few may have older relatives and friends but these may not be typical of ageing in general. It is a pity it has taken a horrific pandemic to expose our lack of real knowledge of ageing and what our older people need and would like. The current dictatorship approach can be an expensive, cruel and unsatisfactory approach to the physical and mental needs of our older people.

Fortunately the truth is starting to come out.