Archives for category: Ageing

Tomorrow I leave for a conference run by two regional associations in the field of ageing, the gerontologists and the aged care services. It is being held in a country town in Australia.

My big criticism of the gerontologists across the world is that they think they know all about ageing because they have read about, completely ignoring the fact that it will have been written by other younger people. It is likely to include inaccuracies because of this. This is reflected in the research papers they write and the papers they present at conferences. It is also reflected in the fact that so few older people take part in conferences these professional groups organise and therefore these events lose even more credibility.

The advantage of combining with aged care workers is that this group is in daily contact with older people and therefore are aware of at least some of the problems (and positives) associated with ageing. The other advantage is that these people are the treasures of not only the aged scene but of the workforce in general. Older people are not the easiest to work with, not only because of lack of, or reduced control over, our bodies and lives but also the lack of status amongst the community. This is reflected in the low pay and low esteem of their professional helpers. Sadly we, and they, don’t recognise the tremendous contribution they make to what is becoming an ever greater portion of our lives.

From a personal point of view these people are terrific company, not only because they are such interesting people but because having a great sense of humour seems to be a quality they all possess. If I manage to sit with them at the conference dinner not only will I have a very entertaining evening but I will learn so much about community care, particularly in country areas. On the other hand the gerontologists have read a lot about their topic but have little real experience of ageing and tend to discuss theoretical issues.

Visiting country towns is always an interesting experience. There is such a different atmosphere there. The pace of life seems to be much slower and they have time to talk if you want to. Last week I visited a different town and there I learned what life can be, and should be, about. A group of women of all age groups, including one with a pre-toddler, were playing tennis together. They were from different towns in the area and were participating in a tennis competition for teams from each area. What impressed me was that they were there to enjoy and benefit from each other’s company, in spite of the huge age range. One lady looked as if a walking stick would be more beneficial to her than a tennis racquet!

This is the type of community our ancestors lived in. They didn’t have all the tension and stress, and accompanying problems, we have in our lives. The big challenge now is to combine our modern lifestyle with the old approach. That way all age groups could live in harmony and peace and hopefully we could all still achieve, with a resurrection of the role older people had in the community in the past.

Meanwhile I look forward to meeting lots of interesting people with different ideas, including over dinner which is being held in the relaxing environment of the regional zoo!

I have attended 2 functions this week which were dealing with the way older people are treated, in very different ways. One was  research from two universities, the other by people researching care both in the community and in residential care. The different contributors showed very different approaches.

The two University studies were about intergenerational interaction. The first proudly described a project in which children’s play areas are built near aged care facilities. I got the impression that the older people had not even been consulted. Given that some older people, particularly the fragile, do not like boisterous children around them, I felt that this is very much a ‘client’ program.

The second study was from the University of Queensland. It linked older native foreign language speakers, in this case Chinese, with students in years 11 and 12 who are learning this language. It meant that the students heard the language from native speakers and also learned about their culture. For their part the older people felt that their lives were suddenly more meaningful. They had an important purpose in their lives. A win/win for both groups.

The second function united researchers looking at assistance for older people, with older people using these services, particularly those living in the community. It provides a link between the bureaucrats and the customers or clients. One person in the group objected to these words, pointing out that we are actually ‘people’.

The main problem in Australia seems to be the ability of older people to access information, finding out what help is available. Given that home care is much cheaper than nursing home care it is a major problem. There were complaints about telephones not being answered, and web sites that were hard to use. This is easily blamed on the lack of computer knowledge on the part of older people, not considering that it may actually be a problem. From my own limited experience the fault lies with the on-line programmes which are usually very badly written, making them inaccessible. As long as older people, not the programmes, are being blamed little is likely to change.

Some of the comments described older people who needed help showering at home having to wait long hours, in one case until 5pm, for the provider to arrive. Another was of a newly arrived resident in a nursing home being told to go to bed at 7.30pm. She protested that this was not her custom. She was told she had to because they all had to be in bed before the carer could end her shift and go home. The carer settled the impasse by turning the light off. This was appallingly dangerous. Let’s not rush to blame the carer. The fault is with management which created this rule. There are so many stories of inadequately trained, uncaring management it is time such problems were addressed. Where management in any workforce situation does have the necessary knowledge and attitude, sick days and staff turnover are greatly reduced. It is more profitable!

Meanwhile the voices of older people must be heard in any situation in which we are involved. We are people! Such an attitude creates a better, more efficient, happier  and cost-effective world for all involved.

 

When our ancestors first changed from hunter gatherers to agriculturalists not only did their way of life improve as they settled, but it meant that they could live in larger groups. This was the beginning of group knowledge which was far more extensive than that available to the individual groups of nomads who went before them.

Today as we live in bigger groups in ever growing cities, this group knowledge is escalating at an ever growing speed. Trips to the moon and instantaneous  communication across the world are examples of this. When I compare my lifestyle with that of my parents I am aware of massive changes just in one generation.

I wonder if we are aware of this phenomena and are taking steps to deal with it? No one brain has any hope of knowing anything other than a very small part of not only present knowledge, but also that which lies ahead, even in the next 10 years. Should we be addressing the situation? Currently we just seem to shrug our shoulders and put it in the too hard basket.

These thoughts have been brought on by major elections this year in both Australia and the United States, and possibly other countries as well. I have expressed concern before about the way candidates are chosen, particularly in countries which have developed mainly two party systems, which in themselves restrict alternative policy thinking.

So many of our leaders, and would be leaders, seem to feel that if they went to University after leaving school then their education is complete for life. This may have been appropriate thinking at the time, probably 30 or more years ago, with the last generation, but is it appropriate today at a time of enormously accelerating gains in knowledge? There are quiet mutterings about lifelong learning but few seem to believe in it, including our political representatives.

Are ideas and information which were appropriate when our leaders completed their education really applicable today for a very different world? Doesn’t this explain why those who seek election to run their country usually seem woefully inadequate for the job, particularly when their ideas have to be constrained within a largely two party system.

Maybe we could find people who don’t necessarily want to be part of the ruling group but who can recognise what is happening to us and suggest arrangements which would enable our rapidly growing knowledge base to be available to, and part of, group leadership at a national and international level. Could we create an international knowledge bank available to leaders facing either national or international problems, which in today’s world are often indistinguishable? Is the current large gap between current knowledge and country, and world, leadership, causing our lack of ability to solve so many of the problems confronting the world’s peoples, both within national boundaries and at a world level? A current problem we seem unable to solve, or even foresee, is the movement of so many migrants and refugees across the world.

Should tackling the problem of providing access to new knowledge be the contribution the current world’s population make to those following us, part of our 21st century legacy? We could do much worse, including our present ‘continue as we are’ policy, or should I call it the ‘muddle through as you are’ policy?

Rich people are always a worry to me. No matter how you look at them many are basically grabbing as much for themselves, regardless of the circumstances of those they take the money from. A recent example of this is the behaviour of a rich Australian who used money from one of his companies to set up his own electoral party about 3 years ago. After he was elected to Parliament he got out of the company, except apparently as a share holder, and it has now been put into administration, leaving many of his workers with unpaid wages and families to support. In spite of his wealth from his other companies and his Parliamentary salary he feels no compulsion to pay the money they are owed.

This is in huge contrast to many others who quietly give often large amounts of their money to help others in a variety of fields. Some do it not very quietly, seeking public adulation, and others keep quite a large part of their money for themselves, continuing to lead lavish lifestyles, with large houses, large boats and private planes.

I was reminded of all this when I recently watched a documentary on the development of the British rail system. Because of the economic development this presented, so many of the builders accrued wealth. From this they seemed to feel it necessary to leave their creations as a legacy to the country for the future. Train stations, which today we regard as mere necessities, were frequently magnificent architectural structures which has left a lasting legacy to the ensuing generations for centuries to come. We often don’t know the names of those who built them, we can just enjoy and admire this legacy they left us.

With so much of the world living in poverty and the rich getting richer, are today’s rich people changing their attitude towards what they could/should do with their money? Are they more concerned with their own comfort, spending their money on transient objects such as planes or boats, rather than leaving a more lasting legacy? Are we moving into a world where ‘I’ is the most important commodity. Maybe today’s rich people are not so different from those who invested their money in expensive tombs and other artefacts to help them in the next life. If only we knew if there is a next life and what it is like. Will we all be called to account for what we have and what we spend our money on? Are we really our brother’s keepers and should we be helping them, and the rest of humanity? I suspect this would be a very different world if we knew!

Centuries seem to be a convenient measuring unit for our history with each being accredited with specific human progress. The 19th century was the breeding ground for the industrial revolution, the 20th for two world wars followed by remarkable progress in technology which led to all parts of the world being instantly connected.

Are we now sufficiently civilised and knowledgeable to decide what we would like to achieve in the 21st century (we are now well into it) or will we just randomly move in whatever direction fate takes us? I would argue that since the whole world is connected in terms of easy communication we should be able to move from the selfish ‘I want’ of each country to a worldwide ‘We want’ of the world population. Diseases (pandemics) and climate change are making it very evident that the latter view is the only one that will work. If we accept this argument then can we take human history into our own hands and set goals to try to achieve it? It’s not a new idea, after all that is what the United Nations was set up to achieve, but that was in a different time, with different communications restrictions and different world values, particularly in terms of equality.

Is this early part of the 21st century an appropriate time for the world to decide that the legacy today’s people should leave is one of thinking in terms of a shared earth and setting goals for what we as its inhabitants want to leave for the generations who come after us? Do we want to set the agenda, as far as we can, for the 21st century and our legacy for our grandchildren, great-grandchildren etc.? Given the enormous skills, knowledge and abilities we have inherited from those who have gone before us let’s use them to create a unified, shared planet. Let’s not leave the legacy of the 21st century to chance but rather decide that this is the way to go to benefit the whole world population and plan to achieve that.

Wars, such as those currently in several parts of the world, benefit no-one except a few people’s ego’s and this is usually short lived. The damage to people’s lives lasts for far longer. The current situation where there are millions of displaced people across the world is a sad reflection on our skills as global population managers. We can do better than this. We just need a few people with a genuine passion for a better world for all to unite to push for new goals. In the 21st century we have the knowledge, skills and ability to achieve it. What are we waiting for?

 

I think that probably the worst side of ageing are the unknowns. I include among these the fact that we don’t know how much longer we will live and how unwell we may become and what form any disability will take. With the latter comes the concern about whether, how and if we will cope with it. Against this background of unknowns we try to create a productive lifestyle. We know we still have a lot to offer, even if many others don’t realise it!

These thoughts about unknowns came into my mind a few months ago when I began to realise that more people were treating me like an older person. For example, instead of getting to a pedestrian crossing and waiting for the traffic to stop it is now much more common for it to stop as I approach it. I think the fact that I am stooping more is contributing to the picture of ‘elderliness’.

So why am I stooping more, with the disadvantages this brings, such as not being able to reach high shelves? I assume it is because our bones deteriorate in thickness as we get older and therefore even our spines are not as straight. What other parts of me will become less efficient as time passes? Questions such as these form the great unknown of ageing.

Do we have our priorities right when we know so much about the moon and planets but so little about the lifespan of the human body, particularly as most of the world is undergoing population ageing? One of these has an immediate effect on this world, the other has been around since time began, and is likely to continue to do so, or is this too an out-of-date idea?

My last blog had a link to an article the World Health Organisation had about my work. It is easy to blame those who indulge in ‘ageism’ and look down on older people and treat us as children but it has occurred to me that just pointing out that this is an incorrect attitude is not enough. People these days like to have proof and I would encourage all older people who are achieving to submit their stories to the WHO website too. It is easy to say that all the criticism we older people receive is unfair and paints an incorrect picture of us. I think it’s also our responsibility to prove that our detractors have got it all wrong.

We have got so much to offer, so many ideas, so much knowledge and so much experience of life and human behaviour it seems sad when the world just dismisses us as little old men and women. We have so much to offer, but we need to show the world and change it’s attitude. We are the insiders when it comes to successful ageing. Meanwhile we need  to know more about what lies ahead of us in terms of our ageing bodies. It affects everyone eventually so it would be money well spent. Then we can just get on with achieving, making any necessary physical adjustments to our lives as we go, particularly if we have some idea of what lies ahead of us.

Click here to see my entry on the World Health Organisation’s Instagram feed
Most people would agree that the world is in a mess. Consider how clever humans are. The technological world we live in and our ability to travel beyond this planet, are just two of our many skills. What we don’t seem to be very good at is organising ourselves as the inhabitants of this planet. We are wrecking it by using too many of its resources and ignoring the effect of this, particularly in terms of air pollution and climate change. We also seem to lack the ability to set goals and aims for ourselves as societies. The fact that we are apparently incapable of controlling those whose aims are not in the public good, such as the current militants, is a sad reflection on our ability in this field.

One problem which is very much under the radar is the fact that across the world people are living longer and we don’t seem to know how to identify the effects of this, or what to do about it. The situation in developed countries is worse in the sense that the extra life span is really large and we still seem to be at first base in terms of working out how to deal with the situation.

It will become an ever increasing problem if we continue to view it as such, rather than seeing it for what it really is, a bonus. If we look at it objectively we have an increasing number of our wisest, most knowledgeable and experienced members of our community spending more time with us. Instead of looking at the situation in this way we tend to fob older people off as being ‘past it’ and of no further use to the community, simply because they have reached a particular age, rather than looking at their talents and abilities. We tend to exclude this group from society, pat them on the head and tell them to go off and enjoy themselves. As though they could, when they are given the impression that they are surplus to society’s requirements, particularly when we then start publically worrying about how much our attitude to them is costing us.

We are good at rocket science but not good at recognising the human wealth older people have to offer society. We should regard the elderly as a valuable human resource and utilise what they have to offer. I’m not ignoring the fact that the human body tends to deteriorate but we should be able to allow for this and the accompanying physical effects of ageing. It shouldn’t be an excuse to banish this group to the outskirts of society.

If we are to enable older people to continue to lead valuable lives, both physically and mentally, then it is up to society to rethink its attitude towards this group. If we don’t do this then we have to start not only adding up the costs of this policy to society but also to the individuals involved.

What a different world we would live in if someone worked out that the most prosperous and happiest society was the one which catered for the needs, and talents, of all its citizens and didn’t overlook groups such as the elderly who still have so much to offer. We’d all look at our ageing populations in a new light and our own time in this stage of life in a positive sense.

The other day I was reminded of an incident when I was teaching College students in their last couple of years of school. One of the students came up to me to tell me she was quitting. When I asked why she said that everyone was picking on her and she couldn’t take it any more. Today we would recognise it as bullying but fortunately we weren’t using that word then otherwise there would have been a standard response. Instead I told her to take a good look at herself. Her head was down and her shoulders scrunched over; I imitated her. I told her to hold her head up high, hold her shoulders back and look people straight in the eye. About a month later she bounced up to me with a big grin on her face to tell me that it had worked! She was enjoying life again.

I was reminded of this the other day when I heard a comment that as we age our spines can take on a new configuration, referred to as stooping. My own back was starting to hurt so I remembered some exercises I had been given a few years ago and started doing them again. It certainly helped.

I began to wonder if, as we age and begin to stoop, we become like my student, feeling that people are looking down on us. If the rest of our bones lose their strength then it makes sense that our spines are likely to do the same. Worse still, our early ancestors moved with a horizontal spine!

I have long advocated that there should be clinics for older people so that we know what to expect as the years take their toll, and do something about it if possible. Almost 10% of patients over 65 in hospital are there because of falls so why aren’t fall prevention measures available to all in this age group, just to mention one aspect of ageing. Preventative medical care would appear to be much cheaper among older people than the current system of dealing with a problem when it happens but those responsible for our health don’t seem to be able to work this out. Meanwhile is stooping as a result of ageing, and the public reaction to it, just another contributor to ageism?

It reminds me of a lovely story I heard some time ago. A young lady was out with her mother who was muttering “hold your shoulders back” at which the irritated daughter said “Mum, I’m an adult now”. The mother’s reply was “I’m talking to me, not you”.

Lets spell this out. I suspect most of us want a world in which we can live in peace, knowing that we and our loved ones are safe except against natural hazards. Even with the latter we would like as much protection as possible through warnings of tsunamis, earthquakes etc. and given assistance with evacuations and other protection. Such a world would enable us to utilise all our abilities and talents for the good of our communities and earth itself.

Daily events suggest that we are a very long way from this. As humans we have made enormous advances in so many areas such as space travel and knowledge and prevention of diseases yet on a daily level we fail miserably. So many people still live in poverty and fear. Not only do we not take action to alleviate these but we add to them.

I don’t believe anyone has the right to take another person’s life and any country which allows this is behind the standard of civilisation reached by other countries which have banned it. The recent approved killing of a religious leader in one country has led to increased threats of violence in neighbouring countries. The ordinary people in all countries have the right to a better life than this.

Even in countries which have less violence there are still problems. The US president is opposed to his country’s gun laws but is prevented from taking action. There are so many places in the world where people are not allowed to be armed where the policy works peacefully yet, presumably, the US gun lobby is allowed to rule in that country in spite of it being labelled a democracy.

In Australia we are currently having problems with the behaviour of our elected members, including Parliamentary ministers. There has to be something wrong with an election system which lets these people stand. How can people be elected when they regard women as second class citizens and their language is that of the gutter? Meanwhile there is still plenty of poverty in the country which is being ignored.

We have such a long way to go before we can achieve the ideal world I started out with. I’d like to think that this is the century when we achieve world peace and prosperity yet we are quite a long way into it and don’t seem very far along the journey. We have a lot of work to do but if we do it collectively we can achieve it. A big problem will be identifying those who hop on board because they think there is something in it for them, either in terms of money or power. There are already too many of those running different countries in the world. They prevent us from reaching our full potential.

The end of the year is traditionally a time to look back at the pluses and minuses of the old year and look ahead at what we are hoping for in the new one. As we get older there are plenty of past years to think about!

The event in 2015 which impressed me most was a government world wide determination to work together to save the world’s climate. I don’t remember a previous occasion when the nations of the world got together to work as one to save the planet we all share and depend on. My only concern is that it seems to have been an issue for governments only, without any recognition that they have limited ability to control pollution. The main polluters are the human inhabitants of the world. Some of the damage each of us does is inevitable but what a difference it would make if every inhabitant made a conscious effort to control our individual contribution beyond this, particularly in the developed world. I was made aware of this one day when a colleague talked about where she and her husband would go for their overseas holiday this year, apparently completely oblivious to the fact that the flight alone would add enormously to their personal pollution contribution.

My concern for 2016 is also the lack of recognition of ageism which seems to be part of government unwritten policy in at least 2 countries. In Australia, many pensioners are getting letters informing them that their pensions have been reduced. No explanation is given nor are the way pensions are calculated transparent. This does not happen in other areas of society; indeed in the workplace each item is carefully listed and legally addressed. Worse still, media reporters have discovered that many of the private superannuation companies are run by the highly profitable top banks who are taking up to 25% in fees.

Whilst this to me is completely unacceptable the situation in the UK is even worse. One elderly lady waiting for a heart operation has realised that she seems to have been dropped off the waiting list, something that has happened to her twice before. The thinking is apparently that old people are going to die anyway so health money is better spent on younger people. Apparently those who make these policies are incapable of figuring out that  this way health costs are likely to rise with the additional care required, as well as the increase in human suffering. They can only reason that it looks better for them if waiting lists are reduced. I’m sure that there are similar stories to these from other countries.

These are some of the battles we face in the year ahead. We need to be vigilant and speak out when we see a wrong in any area. That way at the end of the year we will be able to look back with pride and satisfaction. I hope we can also have an enjoyable year, buoyed by our successes in making the world a better place.