Archives for category: Over 65

The only mention made of death in our society is usually through the old saying that taxes and death are the only two certainties in life. The rest of the time it seems to be a taboo subject. The only certainty about it is that it will happen, yet for most of us the how, where and when are not only complete uncertainties but not discussed.

I’m trying to work out how long I will last, given my current age, life expectancy for my age group and restrictions such as chronic illness. This sounds really potent yet seems to be the medical name for diabetes and other common diseases which affect life expectancy. I felt really doomed when I first heard the expression, but life has gone back to normal since then!

For older people it probably makes life a bit easier if we can work out a rough, probably inaccurate time limit. It gives us a bit of a time-line for things we would like to achieve before then, such as tidying up and sorting through possessions (called rather cutely ‘downsizing’!). It doesn’t seem to work for me, having recently passed on a whole lot of books I knew I would never read to charity, then restocking with other books I thought I might read!

The other uncertainties we face are the how  and where. Most people say they would like to die at home but few do. I suspect that this could be caused by medicos trying to use their new devises and medications on us when we would prefer to just quietly leave this world.

The big problem is the current discussion we are currently having in Australia about being allowed to do have a hand in our death and allow us to advance it when medication is not currently available to so painlessly. Euthanasia has almost been a taboo topic and is often described as murder. There are quite a few countries intelligent enough to allow it under very strict conditions and it seems to work well, with the conditions imposed preventing abuse. The opponents to this practise seem to base their objections on reasoning which is not based on intelligence and knowledge. These are often the same people who oppose same-sex marriage and abortion. The problem is that although their ranks are being reduced because more people are applying reason and logic to arguments, based on modern knowledge, these groups still have a traditional influence which they inflict on all of us.

If people oppose those of us who want to be able to die to escape excruciating pain, why should this minority be allowed to dictate what we choose to do? If I still looked at the world through religious eyes I suspect I would think that if God hadn’t yet released to us the knowledge to reduce all pain to a bearable level, then why shouldn’t we use the God-given knowledge we already have to choose to end our suffering? How heartless are these people if they are prepared to force their own families to have to watch them suffer needlessly, often for weeks and months? Not my idea of a Christian, loving world in which we really care about those we love, as well as our neighbours, in its full definition.

Dying would be less of a worrying uncertainty if people didn’t have to face the possibility of unrelieved excruciating pain accompanying it. Lets at least make this a certainty.

These are the two major influences in my life at present and as time goes on they both get more urgent!

I have always been interested in education, not only personally but because I spent almost all of my life teaching, mainly in high schools but also University. I also continuously updated my own knowledge base, ending up with 5 degrees, the latest, a Ph.D. at age 76. I had one short stint away from teaching learning to be a computer programmer but found I missed human company as in those days programmers worked on their own! What a different world!

Computers have made a huge change in human life, something we can expect to continue to happen. We should have seen the knowledge explosion coming. From our early history we know that as groups grew their knowledge and new ideas grew with them. Today we can contact people across the world instantaneously so obviously our knowledge is growing at the same rate.

This is why life long learning becomes increasingly important, and it shows! The main people who seem to be unaware of its importance are those to whom it should be obvious, and be vitally necessary, our leaders. What is happening in Syria currently is an absolute disgrace. It is happening because leaders around the world were educated in the last century and have missed out on the knowledge which has happened since, at a time when the world is going through a knowledge explosion. How else can we explain why today’s leaders see a problem and take the old-fashioned way out of it, which usually means inhumane, costly and ineffective solutions, usually killing. Eventually, after much regrettable behaviour and death and suffering, not of course to the leaders, they decide to talk about the problem. How unintelligent this path is.

At citizen level we worry about the crime rate yet the only solution we use is to protect society from criminals by locking them up for a while. When they are released the majority go out and repeat the cycle. This isn’t a 21st century solution, it is a 20th century band-aid. We know so much more now.

So many people wonder how the USA has got itself into the current situation where leadership choice in the most influential country in the world seems to rest on which group can come up with the most dirt about the other. How uneducated! There are far bigger problems than this in the world such as liberty, poverty, disease, lack of access to food and fresh water and education which we should be tackling.

So where does ageing fit into all this? Same problems. I’ve just come across another world-wide group in this field who I am sure likes to think of themselves as world leaders, the IAGG. Yet they also don’t give discounts to pensioners to attend their next international conference and presumably don’t really want us there. Conferences on ageing without the ageing? Another example of a group educated in the 20th century who haven’t moved on. Ageing is currently a major problem, created by the so-called experts who haven’t yet realised that to be efficient and successful in their work they need to involve the real experts, ageing people themselves.

So many problems in the world would no longer exist, or be solved, if leaders updated their knowledge and education so that they thought and spoke from a 21st century knowledge platform.

 

This week I listened to a discussion about a new report on the adequacy of the pension in Australia. It is a very complex problem which is probably why it is a rarely tackled. The last attempt I am aware of was by a university researcher who ended up having to make so many assumptions the end result wasn’t really meaningful. This time the authors set themselves plenty of time and enlisted the help of a number of organisations involved with the elderly, such as the Council for the Ageing (COTA). The main value of the exercise to me was the inclusion of someone with many years of experience with ageing groups and is himself celebrating his 85th year this year. He was a member  of a three person panel speaking about the issue. It was a refreshing change to see a panel not just discussing an age related  topic but with one member actively, personally involved. They were not just studying the ageing but involved with us. It took away the weakness of so many discussions on ageing which talk about us, not with us.

So what emerged from the study? As expected it is a particularly complex issue but some problems cropped up frequently, particularly the topic of good dental health. Not having the money to pay for dental treatment leads to older people having to mash their food as their teeth are too painful for them to chew, or are none existent due to the expense of dentures. To me, this should be a separate issue. We have a free health system in Australia so I can’t see why this can’t be extended to dental health. The other issue which was not raised was the health costs of not taking action. If people are unable to eat properly for whatever reason, including inadequate money for food, then their general health will suffer, a situation which the health system will have to cover, particularly if they end up in the hospital system.

Another major issue was that of the family home not being included in a person’s assets. This problem arises when someone has lived in the family home for decades and its value has risen greatly. The person may not want to leave because, for example, it holds many memories. They also may feel that this is a legacy to leave their children who may be looking forward to it. The problem arises when maintenance costs rise and the older person is obliged to pay out of their pension. They may be left to live in poverty in a hugely valuable home.

These are among the many complex issues the study group looked at. There is obviously much discussion on the issue ahead. At least it is good to know that future talks will be held with older people. not just about us.

I liked the suggestion that the issue of the value of the pension be set by an independent body. The politicians’ response that the country couldn’t afford it was met by ‘but that’s how your salary’s are set”!

Those are just some of our problems in Australia.  What about those countries which don’t have any pension?

 

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.

 

It is about 10 years now since I first became interested in ageing yet I still come across areas I haven’t yet investigated. Recently I was invited to join a group of people investigating homelessness in the city where I live. It was the first time I had considered the plight of older people for whom everything has collapsed.

I had previously heard a talk by someone from a large city in Australia who was describing his involvement in building a group of units for homeless older people. The units were fairly small but big enough to satisfy the needs of those living there and were extremely sensitive to the needs of their new inhabitants. For example, each unit had a balcony attached to it. The balconies overlooked a walkway which enabled the residents to choose to sit outside and chat to people out for a walk (and get some beneficial fresh air), or stay inside if they wanted to be alone. One lady commented that it was the first time in her life she had a key to her own place. She was thrilled! It occurred to me that what she was actually saying was  that this was the first time in her life that she, and her possessions, were safe. A sobering reminder of the constant danger the homeless are faced with.

The group’s research of course will involve those who don’t have that security. It must be a frightening situation for anyone but for older people, aware of their frailty and their vulnerability to illness or violence, it must be even more difficult. The problem is that homeless people tend to hide themselves away from public view for safety so that the only way we can be aware of them is through the wonderful people who go looking for them. These people are among the angels of this world. Those they look for are most likely to be dirty and smelly, out of necessity, yet these angels look beyond that and offer them help. I assume that this is a problem which exists throughout the world, with the size of the problem depending very much on the number of people who go looking for them and are enabled to offer them help. This help currently cannot always be in the form of shelter, food and necessary medications, due to financial restrictions.

So what is this new group I recently joined hoping to do about it? Firstly we need to know how big the problem is and we need to contact those with knowledge in this field to get this information. The next step is to make people living in our city  aware of the problem. I suspect that many, hopefully most, will be prepared to lobby their politicians to provide the money to address the problem. With an election a few months away this is an ideal time to be highlighting the problem.

Will a solution to this problem through provision of low cost shelter and access to health professionals be the answer to the problem and nothing more? I suspect not. It is easy to dismiss the homeless as no hopers but I suspect that this is not always the case. I suspect that we will find that many of them will be in this situation through no fault of their own, bowed down by numerous disasters in their lives. We could end up as the beneficiaries of solving the problem if those assisted are enabled to lead useful and rewarding lives. At least those who are assisted will have the opportunity to live better lives. Well worth researching the problem and solving it.

 

I have recently joined a group which is interested in this topic so I am on a sharp learning curve. Being older has its restrictions but not having a place you can call home must make the problems even harder.

I now realise that the topic ‘Homeless’ actually covers two different groups of people. One group have no specific place which they can label ‘home’ but can usually find a place of shelter, the other group are what we normally regard as homeless and literally sleep wherever they can find some shelter from the elements, such as under bridges. This latter group is of real concern, particularly when we mix it with the ageing process.

The sad part is that what I suspect is a very small minority actually prefer this way of life. Some years ago I saw a documentary about one such young man with a respectable job who suddenly got tired of what he felt was a controlling life and took to the roads. His family never knew where he was but every few months he would turn up at the family home, clean himself up, eat well for a few days, and then set off again, living off whatever he could find beside the road. We have to respect people who find fitting in with modern life oppressive but our concern must be with those who don’t have a place to live, not out of choice.

The homeless group includes all ages, including young people who live by surfing couches at friends homes but a homeless life is particularly hard for vulnerable older people who, among other problems, are more at risk of health complications. In the next few weeks I also hope to interview someone who has specialised in the beginning of this problem, recognising impending homelessness and trying to prevent it.

Our winter nights here are particularly cold, with below freezing temperatures the norm. Some of the homeless are likely to find shelter in accommodation provided usually by charities who specialise in this work. If there is enough of this the problem is partially solved, although I also hope to interview the providers and find out what the situation is in my own rather wealthy city. My main concern is with those who can’t find even this type of accommodation and have to sleep in their cars, if they have one, or rough on the streets, particularly if children are involved.

If a city or town has managed to solve the problem for its own residents then another problem arises. The homeless in surrounding areas hear that if they go to that particular centre they will find accommodation of some sort and it becomes a bottomless problem. I’m not sure what the answer to this is.

I look forward to being part of this group as all the members either work in this field or are keen to try to find a solution to the problem. Some years ago one charitable organisation in another city, Melbourne, had provided small housing units for the elderly homeless. I will never forget one resident saying it was the first time in her life she had had a key to her own place. In other words a place where she and her belongings were safe. If only we could make this a world-wide goal.

Come with me on my journey.

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 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.