Archives for category: Social

This week, for the second week in a row, I have visited a small country town in Australia. This time it was Dubbo, a small inland town with about 36622 residents and a catchment area of 130000. It is a farming community although currently they are in the midst of a prolonged drought. The drive there makes you aware of why it is currently called a dust bowl- the landscape has a cloud of dust above it.

At one point I was trying to find the local shopping centre and asked directions of a lady who turned out to be a leading light in the town. She was going to the same place and we chatted as we walked there. Before we parted company she gave me an 8 page pamphlet, published by the local people, of all the events in town they were organising. There were about 30 listed, from gardening groups to writers, musicians, a historical society, arts and crafts, theatre, dining, to cooperation with the Sydney Opera House. What a vibrant community.

This made me realise how important local communities are and that this is the major problem with our cities. I am not sure what city planners are concerned with, I can only assume it is with roads and transport and housing siting and other non-human items. This lack of acknowledgement of the human needs of city dwellers is what makes them the disastrous places they usually are, particularly for older people.

My suggestion is that we design cities, and renovate them, in terms of smaller designated areas round a central hub, probably with local shops and some form of meeting place. It would be an area which allowed, and encouraged, all the activities currently Dubbo makes available to its citizens. It would be designed around humans, not merely convenient areas for the provision of water, electricity and other local governance responsibilities. If we put people first we will have much healthier and happier communities.

This is not a dream world idea although it will be difficult to implement initially, simply because it has always been a neglected area of city life and planning. When cities first developed they were created in the interests of the manufacturers who needed a large supply of workers for their factories. Workers were merely commodities. We have now evolved to the stage where workers are recognised as people who will work better and more creatively if they are treated properly. They will also be healthier and happier. We have centuries of catching up to do in our cities.

My final morning in Dubbo was surrounded by a cloud of female motorcyclists (and their partners). They were meeting at the local showground. If they could get 900 of them together it would be a world record. Apparently they held it 2 years ago but the Brits took it off them! What struck me was what a happy group they were, pleased to be together joining up with other bikies from across Australia. Needless to say this good news event didn’t hit the national news. After all, they were regarded merely females and bikies, not young women harmlessly enjoying themselves, passing on their pleasure and enjoyment of life to others.


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!

The other day I listened to an interview with a scholar who has recognised the importance of this attribute in the world and at all levels of society. It was not something which had been brought to my attention before but the more I thought about it the more I realised that this may be the missing link in modern societies. The more we crowd together in cities the more it seems to become a survival of the fittest. We come to know fewer people around us and the rest are regarded as strangers about whom  we know little, if anything.

During the interview mention was made of an exhibition in Melbourne, Australia, on the topic. The exhibition was apparently made up of people who are more disadvantaged than the rest of us and who had recorded their stories and left a pair of their shoes. Visitors to the exhibition were asked to stand in a pair of these shoes and listen to the person’s story. This physical contact was very important and those who visited it came away saying that it had been a very emotional experience and had changed them. They had experienced life through the eyes (and feet) of somewhat more disadvantaged than themselves. It was based on the old suggestion that we walk a mile in the shoes of someone less privileged than ourselves to better understand them.

It is many decades since the last world scale war and the cessation of these could be a measure of our progress towards a more peaceful planet, but there are so many wars going on at any one time, creating millions of refugees and injured people, as well as those who lose their lives, are we really making progress? Does the problem lie with the sort of people we choose as , or who are able to become, our leaders, whether we have a western style democracy or a dictatorship? We don’t realise, or we fail to admit, the extent to which empathy should be part of any such selection process.

During the interview I was listening to, the comment was made that rich people tend to have a lower level of empathy than the rest of us, which fits in with the definition of them as money addicts. Certainly in Australia we would have a very different type of person in our Parliaments if the degree of empathy of potential candidates was able to be measured and was taken into account in the selection criteria. This would also seem to apply in the USA in the current Presidential election process.

Is the study of empathy, and ways of measuring it, our key to a more successful and prosperous (for all) planet? What a breakthrough that would be. No more competition to build the biggest and most effective weapons with their power to kill and maim the greatest number of people as a measure of a country’s success.

I hope that the exhibition mentioned above will be able to move to many more places and many more countries so that it can be experienced across the world and take on the importance it seems to deserve. Maybe the missing link in our search for a better world is the lack of recognition of the importance of empathy as a human trait.

I have just come back from a conference on the coast on aged care and feel so refreshed. I hadn’t realised until I got home just how bogged down I had been in everyday life.

I deliberately chose a motel to stay in which was in walking distance of both the conference venue and the shops, yet was on the riverfront. I was able to park my car and walk everywhere. When I went out it meant a walk along the side of the river with quite a lot of bird life and little pedestrian or car traffic. I could even see the river when I sat outside my unit. Peace. Watching the tidal flow was also a reminder of the bigger world we are part of.

Most of the other conference participants were people involved in the ‘hands on’ care of older people. These professionals are the salt of the earth. If we had more people of their calibre what a better place the world would be. This was in the week in which the lists of the richest women were published. I am always reminded that these people don’t actually make money themselves – they just acquire the money, already in circulation, from other people. What a huge contrast between the two groups. What a different world it would be if those involved in the care of older people had a bigger say in the way the world is run.

There are so many different aspects to the type of care older people need, including the importance of dental care. If people don’t have access to this and their teeth decay, then they have problems eating, and the type of foods they are able to eat. This often makes a balanced diet difficult to achieve. For people in residential care, arrangements usually have to be made not only to get an appointment with a dentist, made more difficult if they can’t afford private care, but also the transport required to take them there. There was one story of an elderly person not being able to identify her own dentures from the 3 sets in front of her. When teeth are not properly looked after it makes it more difficult for nurses caring for them.

Added to the problems associated with dental health are other areas of concern such as incontinence which I am told affects 1 in 3 older people. This figure makes it even more important that information about pelvic floor exercises, and the importance of them, be more widely known.

I am sure that as we age we don’t want to think of these issues and the fact that they may apply to us, not just other older people, regardless of who we are. We just have to be thankful that there are wonderful people who will look after us when we need it.

I guess as we get older we have seen so many New Years we get quite blasé about them, feeling that no matter how hard the world tries little will apparently change. It is changing of course but I am not sure it is through our choice.
Every year we add enormously to our knowledge source and one area in which we are committing huge resources is in the ‘big bang’ field, trying to find out how the world/universe started and perhaps why we are here. This I guess is a huge and expensive topic but it seems to have a single focus which I suspect is why we do focus on it. The rest of our problems are complex and hard to define so they tend to get ignored. Trying to make the current world, and its inhabitants, a better place is much too complex for us to think about addressing. Or is it just that we are too selfish to try, knowing that if we did provide every inhabitant with the vital necessities in life, such as shelter, clothing, food and fresh water, we would each have to lower our own standard of life, some more than others? We have created a strange world in which we admire those who are unselfish and share with others yet few have any wish to do the same. Worse still we tend to also admire the rich, the collectors of material wealth, and try to emulate them.
This particularly applies to many politicians who can’t see the very real danger of an ever widening gap between the rich and poor. To me the gap between what the lowest 10% of the population have and what the highest 10% have should be the real measure of a country’s wealth and prosperity. The ridiculous argument that if you tax the highest earners too highly they will stop working is just nonsensical. The rich are rich because they are addicted to money and wealth and having a bit more will always appeal to them.
Maybe our joint and individual resolution this year should be to stop at nothing to make the world a better place, particularly for those who currently have insufficient for their essential needs. Maybe a joint effort might actually work. Then we would have a New Year worth celebrating.

The world is saddened by the fact that Robin Williams found it necessary to take his own life. We will never know, I suspect, what the cause was or whether it was the result of a multitude of problems, including his addiction to drugs. My own concern is the effect that being an older person in the entertainment industry may have had upon him.
This is one area where the effect of ageism is really a major problem. During my research into ageing I interviewed 2 older people in this field- one was a political cartoonist, the other an actor. Without being prompted both commented on the fact that they had survived, and continued to work, in an area where older people were particularly overlooked.
As an outsider I would have thought that the added knowledge and experience that older people have acquired should have been a distinct advantage in this industry yet apparently these don’t add value. In case you don’t realise the extent of this there has been plenty of research done but just from our own experience the situation is obvious, particularly in the theatre and on television. The next time you go to see a play or watch television look out for older people being involved. In the community approximately 12% (it varies a bit by region) are aged 65 and over yet the portrayal of older people in these two areas is much smaller than this. Worse still older people are often portrayed as silly in their behaviour, comic figures.
This must have an effect on older people involved in this industry. Is their best work behind them? Are they likely to get more work and will they still be as popular as they were in the past?
The only way we are going to change things is to raise awareness of the situation. I remember when female sport was barely mentioned in the media. Publicity given to the amount of print dedicated to women’s sport in specific newspapers soon brought about change. The idea that women would perhaps be reluctant to purchase specific newspapers in favour of others meant that women’s sport was quickly elevated and reported on. This had a tremendous influence and made it much more prestigious. The public view of the situation changed.
We need to barrack for older people in all areas of life.

Recently I have been mixing with older people more often than I normally do. I think it is healthy for all age groups to mix with each other to share our views on life. After all we are all sharing this planet together and all contributing to it and all have different needs.
On one occasion a lady who is only a few months older than me was telling us about one of her grandsons making creative, funny movies using his camera. At a recent family get together each was asked to do their ‘party piece’. Hers was to sit on the floor with her legs stretched out in front of her and touch her toes. She said that she had always been able to do it because her arms were very long (I had never noticed!). For the film this was speeded up and played over and over which must have looked very funny. What struck me was that when I asked her to show us she immediately got down and sat on the floor without any hesitation. I was amazed. To me getting down on the floor these days is something to be avoided. If I have to do it I feel more like an old cow getting up and down (with a final ‘plomp’) than a human. I know my friend visits a gym a few times a week and does Pilates. I wonder if this is her secret particularly as she appears to have no sign of arthritis which is always my excuse!
I have been invited to speak to a group which advocates on behalf of health consumers in a few weeks. I had intended to advocate for the provision of fitness centres which include the special needs of older people and I will use this as an example of what could/should be available. When I suggested it some time ago to our chief minister she said that older people could use facilities provided by the private sector. I’m not sure where she thought pensioners would get the money from for this or how they would access them. A major consideration for the new health centres the government is providing is accessibility.
I hope I will be successful in convincing our local group of the benefits, and the ensuing reduced health costs, such a facility attached to the health centres would bring. They don’t need much in the way of equipment as they would largely be duplicating the equipment we would need to have at home. The use and value of weights in exercise, for example, all happened after we went through a health phase, if we ever did. Weights are cheap enough. When I had physiotherapy for my shoulder last year I was advised to use them in the form of rice packets! When they get a bit tatty you just eat the contents and buy more rice (weights!). All we need is to be taught how to use equipment such as this and to have the facility to keep an eye on our fitness.
How much brighter life would be if all older people had the opportunity to keep themselves as fit as possible. After a visit to a residential village for older people the other day my eye was caught by some movement not far away. It was some of the older residents using the tennis court. If such facilities are available they will be used.
Meanwhile I need to stop using my age (and arthritis!) as an excuse for my own lack of optimal fitness!

The other evening I was on-line looking at auctions and bought my granddaughters an electric toy car, the type of toy I would have loved as a child but was well out of reach. I had decided on a middle of the range one, not too slow and not too expensive. Then a got chance to get a sports Mercedes-Benz at a bargain price so I went for it.
When I was a child we didn’t even have a car, let alone a Mercedes-Benz! As a lower class child in class conscious Britain it was beyond even our wildest dreams even if we had wanted to show off, which is what these vehicles seem to be for.
My action set me back down memory lane to my childhood when we looked at humanity from the bottom rung. Fortunately my parents looked at the post-war society as a place in which their daughters could have all the opportunities they never had so we never felt inferior. I knew we didn’t have as much money as those around me but I tended to look at the situation objectively. I had a very happy childhood and this seemed to be my yardstick for what life was about. Looking up from the bottom I was aware other people had more money and goods but they didn’t seem any happier than I was.
This seems to be what the world is about these days. The quality of our lives is measured by the amount and value of the goods we have. Happiness, which doesn’t seem to be linked to these, doesn’t come into it. What does worry me is that the yardstick we tend to use about each other is based on wealth and we tend to apply this to children. The government has arranged education reporting which is linked to the income of each area. How much money people have has little effect on how well their children do. What does effect children is the amount of interest and support their parents give them but unfortunately we don’t accept this and haven’t developed a way of measuring it. I wonder how many parents who are flat out trying to earn ever more money realise that their children are likely to be telling their teachers that their parents don’t care about them as they rarely see them. Love, care and interest by parents and other family members are the backbone of a child’s needs to enable them to develop and achieve their potential.
Meanwhile I hope my granddaughters enjoy their model Mercedes-Benz simply because it looks fun and Grandma will be enjoying watching them play with it. Not because it represents upper class misplaced values. It’s the love and fun which count. I’ll be having a giggle at a world I learned to see through!

The other evening I went to a talk given by an economist on public policy for an ageing society. It’s always good to hear from someone looking at ageing from a different view-point. He pointed out that there are two basic ingredients to longevity. One is our genes about which we can currently do nothing, the other is our lifestyle which we do have control over. He talked in terms of healthy living in terms of adding to the length of time we have on earth, as you would expect an economist to do. We can’t look at this without also realising that if we eat well and keep ourselves fit we will not only live longer but it will be enjoyable living. I believe someone in the United Nations referred to us not just adding years to life but adding life to years.
I am not sure that there is much point in us living longer if we are not enjoying it. If we don’t look after our health through eating well and keeping fit we are more likely to spend the very last part of our lives combatting immobility and pain.
The problem at present is that many of us grew up and matured before the current fitness awareness hit society so that many of us are unfamiliar with the exercises accompanying this. Should we be familiar with weights and be using them for example? Apparently problems like osteoporosis and balance can be improved by appropriate exercises but where are older people able to learn about them? Such preventive measures would save huge amounts of pain and hospitalisation. One of the great medical advances of the last century was the awareness of preventive medicine yet as a society we still don’t recognise the advantages of it. I would love to think that in the future appropriate fitness programs will be available for everyone over 65. It we followed them we could save ourselves and the country huge amounts of money and help us to feel better about ourselves and our ageing. Unfortunately that doesn’t even seem to be on the horizon. I’m probably criticising the medical profession a bit harshly but they still seem to be in a ‘find a pill for it’ mode for every problem. I remember the days when they treated illnesses and it was a huge step forward when they started treating patients, recognising that there was a human behind the problem presented! Hopefully they won’t take too long to realise that prescribing a pill, even if an appropriate one exists, isn’t necessarily the complete answer, particularly when we take the side effects of many pills into account.
People must realise that no matter what their background, including economists and the medical profession, they too will be an older person one day and it’s not a good idea to wait until it happens to them to realise there are unnecessary problems.
We can’t alter our genes but we can determine our lifestyles but we need help and knowledge to achieve the maximum benefits in our later years.

In my last blog I was critical of a doctor who seemed be giving a 104 year old advice about fitness which didn’t take into account her age, in other words her life stage.
From my own experience and that of my friends I am beginning to realise how important it is for us to find some way of keeping fit. It needs to be appropriate to our current health and any disabilities we may have of course.
For those of us who are over 65 we grew up at a time when physical fitness didn’t play a part in anyone’s lives except that of sporty type people. We weren’t dashing off to the gym as today’s younger people often are. Apart from anything else there wasn’t enough money in the family budget even if we had realised how important it was.
This leaves us without a history of automatically scheduling it into either our budget or time. It also means that many of us don’t realise how important it is just to enable us to live well both physically and mentally.
One of the major problems we face as we get older is the prospect of getting dementia, a prospect which increases as each year passes. In the past Alzheimer’s Association has suggested that we do puzzles to keep our brains active but even they are admitting the limited benefits of this. This is where the fitness gurus are coming to our rescue. It seems as though having an increased blood flow which exercise does for us (and makes us feel good and positive) also increases the blood flow to our brains which helps to keep it healthy too.
So that leaves the question of how to exercise. Some people are happy to go to a gym a few times a week, including doing things like Tai Chi classes. In my case I would find such a plan took away from my freedom and added to the time it took with travel time. In my case I bought a not-expensive treadmill a few years ago and I go on that several times a week, supplemented by a step and also gardening occasionally and a walk even less frequently.
These thoughts were actioned by reports from friends who do exercise and get the benefit of it and those who have family members who don’t exercise and tend to deteriorate, particularly physically.
The other influence on me was watching an interview with Dr Ross Walker, a fitness expert who listed the health checks we should be having in each age group. At long last! All we need now is to have health departments recognising that health and fitness go together and to arrange for us pensioners to have our fitness checked at regular intervals (perhaps every 6 months). This would identify if we had deteriorated since our last visit (allowing for ageing) and why. I’m sure this could give an early warning of problems ahead we might be able to halt or at least allow for.
I’m tired of being told about the problems, particularly in terms of cost, of our ageing population yet reducing this isn’t considered. I think the word is ‘doh’!