Archives for category: Ageism

This is a question all countries in the world should be asking themselves. As health measures and research improve, the increasing life expectancy in most countries lead to improving health, and therefore increasing numbers of older people, although the definition of ‘old’ varies.

I don’t think that I could name even one country in the world in which this question has even been asked, let alone successfully answered. The solution to the question of ageing populations seems to be to give them a pension if the country can afford it, otherwise leave them to the generosity of relatives which, if lacking, may involve begging on the streets.

Even in more advanced societies the question doesn’t get asked properly, but as standards rise, and with it the cost of living (and pensions), the only questions which are asked is how to pay for increasing pensions and accommodation for older people. In Australia we appointed a senior politician to look at ageing, particularly at this cost problem. She was apparently appointed for her years of service as a politician, not for her knowledge of ageing and the research done (by younger people) on it. Accordingly after years in the role her major suggestion was that employers be encouraged to enable older workers to stay in the workforce. This didn’t seem to be a very useful suggestion given that research shows that older people take the retirement option as soon as they can because they are bored at work, and feel that their talents aren’t utilised. They are hardly likely to want to continue in that situation no matter what their employers offer in the way of flexible hours etc.

The nearest I have come to finding a solution to this ‘unfulfilled’ attitude to work is through the seniorpreneurs movement which seems to get no government support or backing. In Australia and similar countries we have the most experienced and knowledgeable section of the population put out on the streets as it were in terms of employment and ideas. Our only support is the pension which merely maintains them and makes no use of what this group has to offer in terms of knowledge and experience. Everyone suffers, including the older people who on retirement may face up to 40 years of minimum, if any, contribution to society. This does no-one any good including the well-being of either the employers. older people or society.

These thoughts arose when I read the story of a 102 year old researcher at one of Australia’s  universities who has been asked to leave as apparently they were concerned about his safety. No weight was given to the large number of awards he has earned over his lifetime in a number of areas, and the extra amount of knowledge his work has given the world and the University. What disgusted me was that no-one at the University apparently had the brains to think of a better solution! This doesn’t help the University’s reputation nor its current staff. I suppose that none of them even had the guts to shoot him which would have been a better solution than the long, slow, unpleasant decline which is likely to follow this decision. Do they care?

Does any country which doesn’t really provide for its older citizens in terms of what they still have to offer, and enjoy offering, particularly in terms of self-esteem, either care or have the brains to solve? Meanwhile ageism prospers, just like racism and sexism. All three hinder prosperity for society and the world’s survival.

 

Tomorrow I set off to eventually participate in the International Federation of Ageing 2016 conference in Brisbane (I am having a small deviation to Toowoomba first to catch up on a friend I’ve had for nearly 50 years). To me the conference is a special event as this is perhaps one of a few, if not the only, international conference on ageing which encourages older people to have our voices heard. Most conferences on this topic have registration fees for employees, with reduced ones for students but not for retirees who are the real experts in the field. If retirees are rich enough to afford to attend (which most are not, when you add transport and accommodation costs) only then are they are allowed to attend! I have recently pointed this out to the officials of two conferences on the topic of ageing but I got no reply. One can only guess why they won’t enable older people to attend and why they refuse to respond to a question about it!

These organisations not only put societies decades behind where we should be in terms of benefitting from having ageing populations but they stubbornly stick to their policies. It’s hard to determine where this will take us. We still stick to treating women as second class citizens but we are moving slowly forward in seeing the disadvantages of this. Unfortunately in terms of ageing we are still where we were with women 100 years ago. Not only do the targets of these policies suffer from them but so do the countries that practice them.

In my next blog I’ll report on how the conference went, and the extent to which older people contributed, and were encouraged to do so. Those are the two criteria for judging the success of conferences on ageing.

This week, in a country to Australia’s north, students set off, unarmed they claim, to march to their Prime Minister’s office to protest against his alleged rorts, believing he is setting aside, inappropriately, money for his own personal use. The result was police firing on the students, with at least one in hospital and others too frightened to seek treatment. There are no reports of any police being hurt, certainly not shot. The political reaction has been just as bad with parliament suspended for many weeks, presumably so that no awkward questions can be asked, not only about what happened with the students but also about their allegations. Is this democracy and if not, why not?

The situation in the USA is equally inexplicable. How can a man whose only claim to achievement seems to be the ability to collect money off other people have the distinct possibility of becoming the next President? It seems that in the USA the present incumbent of the position is the only non-rich person who has made it to that office. The other current alternative candidate herself fits the rich bill.

In Australia the incumbent prime Minister has the same qualification, that of being able to collect money off others and thus become rich. He had a lot of ability when younger but hasn’t found it necessary to formally upgrade his knowledge base for nearly 40 years, in spite of the massive increase in knowledge in the world.

New technology, and other new knowledge, is rapidly changing our world but our leaders seem to feel it unnecessary to keep themselves up to date and we as electors seem to feel that the only criteria for leadership is the ability to collect money from others. If we look at the messy world around us it seems to be true that people get what they deserve when they vote yet there are so many others striving to create a better world in an infinite number of fields.

There is at least one movement in Australia trying to choose our representatives in a way that more accurately reflects what ordinary voters, and hence the majority of people want. I suspect that means a fair go for all and settling disputes through conversation, not useless violence followed by conversation. After all, it is ordinary people who suffer the violence and aftermath of it. The current refugees are testament to this.

Meanwhile the pot of gold at the end of this story continues to be overlooked. The enormous wealth of knowledge, information, experience and ideas locked up in older people continues to be dismissed as a burden, with older people regarded as second class, dependent citizens. I only hope that those who come after the present generation of leaders will have learned more from their education and recognise the knowledge, expertise and value, not burden, of older people. Then we can have the sort of world ordinary citizens, including older people, really want.

 

The other evening I watched a discussion on television amongst prominent Australians who are pushing for more equality in society. The panel included a former chief of the army who highlighted the fight against discrimination against women in the army, a sex discrimination officer, a barrister who is campaigning against capital punishment and a young man who has set up a van with a washing machine in it and drives around offering to wash the clothes of the homeless. The level of conversation and caring was extremely high and it was a good representation of how we should be caring for the voiceless. It also reminded viewers that discussion is often also at a mundane level, such as whether using the term ‘guys’ for a group of people is sexist.

I’m raising this because although the discussion was largely about discrimination there was no mention of ageism and its accompanying discrimination against older people. We are still invisible.

This happened at a time when the International Federation for Gerontology and Geriatrics is organising a conference next year in San Francisco on ageing. They only have two registration prices, one for general participants and a discount price for students, no discount for retirees. I wrote to suggest that this means that they will be having a conference on ageing without the ageing, which would make it less accurate, but got no response. When will we wake up to the fact that older people can be valuable members of the community and our voices should be welcome, including at conferences on ageing (the real experts on this particular topic). When that happens the organisers of  this conference will look somewhat silly, and professionally inept and inaccurate.

I suppose my frustration parallels that of the suffragettes who also had to campaign for many decades for recognition of women’s rights and capabilities. You would think we would have learned from that fight but apparently not. The trouble is that ignoring all that older people have to offer is a costly error both for the country, the world and for older people as well.

I hope that there is an after life otherwise I suspect I will miss the opportunity to look down on television discussions and conferences in which older people take an equal place amongst other groups in society. I’m giving up hope of it happening in my lifetime!

This is a strange time to be one of the elders of the world.  In developed countries in particular we haven’t yet come to terms with our ageing populations. We are adopting a ‘more of the same’ approach from the past which isn’t working  either for us older people or the communities we live in. I am under the impression that developing countries are starting to encounter the same problems.

Personally, in Australia which prides itself on being a multicultural society, I find myself facing very different situations. Twice recently I have found myself dealing with two people from very different non-Australian backgrounds. One decided that as a little old lady I could be bullied and she tried this approach. Needless to say it didn’t work- she had underestimated me! The other person, from a very different background, seemed to think that as an older person I might have an interesting story. We had a great conversation as we shared ideas. This second approach is the way to go and has more positive consequences. Our strength is in sharing intergenerational ideas, no matter what our background is.

Meanwhile those in power seem blinded by the idea that we older people are merely a cost and therefore a burden. All they can see is a generation which is adding to costs and will continue to do so as our numbers grow. I wonder how long it will be before our leaders see the older generation as an asset, with ideas based on historical development, not the here and now approach currently in play. We also need to realise that not all ideas are costly and need loads of resources. I will forever have in my mind the photo of the Indian mother and daughter who realised that if you slant the lines at the front of a zebra crossing it will look 3D and therefore slow traffic down. A simple, cheap idea which can save lives across the world. Why can’t all older people be encouraged to think differently and come up with such ideas, rather than merely being dismissed as an economic burden?

It’s not all bad news. Warrigal Care, which runs aged care facilities, from independent living to palliative care, on several sites in one Australian state is planning to celebrate ‘Go Grey in May’ and ‘the contributions older people make to our lives’ by having a photographic exhibition. I would like to think that this attitude is one everyone will have towards older people in the future.

 

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 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”.

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.