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The other day I watched the American debate between the two major candidates for President. Both of them are very wealthy, with one boasting of his wealth to prove how successful he is in life, the currently accepted measure. The picture would be very different if people in so-called developed countries worshipped different goals, one in which everyone was equal, with some having more appropriate talents than others, a group of succeeders who felt obliged to help those less well-endowed. This of course would be a very different world in which war, misery and suffering were greatly reduced  and we could take a common pride in our world, our planet and our achievements. We would go a long way towards this if we stopped applying the word ‘wealthy’ to people who are actually money addicts whose craving for the substance is never satisfied. The problem is that the object of their desire can’t be grown, it has to be taken from other people. Yet these are the people we look up to as potential leaders.

Another word which is frequently abused is the word ‘education’. I think most people would define it as an opportunity to gain knowledge. Unfortunately our definition stops there, particularly when we try to define how such a desirable situation is to be achieved. If we do try, we continue we use words like schools and books, with today adding more sophisticated equipment, such as computers.

These thoughts arose when I took my granddaughters to a school holiday program run by the National Museum of Australia. The theme for every program is based on whatever exhibition the museum currently has running, in this case medieval life. The children were firstly given some knowledge about the topic and then they were asked to make something appropriate, in this case their own crown and shield, which they take home, and they also help to build a castle which successive groups of children will add to. The magic in this program is the talent and imagination the teachers (and helpers) have put into it. It is a non-competitive environment and the children automatically strive to produce their best efforts simply because they are interested and want to. The fact that the teaching staff are also really enjoying what they are doing is the magic ingredient which makes this work.

Our problem is that when we think about education we rarely think in terms of creating a non-competitive environment in which all concerned, from classroom teachers, to school principals, to education departments of universities, to ministries of education can encourage students to be imaginative, to think differently, and to come up with new ideas. Yet these are the talents people living and working in the 21st century need. The problem is that those involved in education are either innovative young teachers who frequently end up toeing the line, or older people whose goal is the next promotion. We then test the success of the current system by using past methods which are no longer relevant in the 21st century, national testing which really measures little yet takes up a lot of time and money.

If we really want a world in which most people can be successful and achieve then we need to rethink our values and the words we use to define them. We need to work out what the world and its populations need and work towards it. We all need to move into the 21st century with more appropriate definitions and goals. Otherwise the planet will become  unlivable and our descendants will die out.

Given the rise and rise of Donald Trump in the US I can only assume that Australia is not the only country to have a mixed approach to desirable standards for its citizens to achieve. If all else is equal then money (addiction) apparently surpasses everything else. We have come full circle since the Christian religion (amongst others) was the dominant force and there was a somewhat half-hearted attempt to spread wealth and assets more evenly so that all could benefit. Now if you are rich (a money addict) you are dominant and your ideas prevail. Your personal education, long since overtaken by your need for more and more money, is no longer important. For the record, it is 48 years since Donald Trump did any formal learning and 36 years for Malcolm Turnbull, in economics for Trump and Law for Turnbull. In both fields there have been dramatic advances in learning to adapt to our changing technological world in the intervening years.

If we turn to the other end of the spectrum, the unemployed and the welfare recipients, we find that there is a different emphasis. Suddenly we acknowledge the need for them to be educated, with both Australia and New Zealand recently assuming that lack of this vital commodity is their problem.

If we turn to our schools we also acknowledge the world we live in and realise that technology, including science and mathematics knowledge, is the way we should be going, equipping our children for this recognised future.

If we really want to create a viable world in which we all share its benefits regardless of our starting point in life, the skills we were equipped with, and the lucky breaks we have had along the way, then we need to work out together what our goals should be as we share this planet. Obviously we can’t all aspire to be like the people we choose as our leaders and potential leaders, collecting as much money as we can off other people. This is a limited goal for very few people and also not a very intelligent one.

So what is the solution? It is many years now since the term ‘lifelong education’ was introduced into our vocabulary but it has few adherents, surprising since the lack of it has so many consequences, particularly given the speed with which modern knowledge is expanding.

It is even longer since early man settled in ever larger groups and as the groups grew so did the pace of new ideas. Not only are we forming ever larger groups today but communication between different groups can be instantaneous, thus rapidly expanding our knowledge base. Knowledge, and its availability, are growing at an unprecedented rate.

Surely we should be capable of recognising the type of leaders appropriate for this new world and abandoning the old stereotype of those only capable of amassing personal wealth, taken off others, dismissing the need for personal knowledge accumulation. This is not a valid path for the world of the 21st century.

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?

 

For years I have been advocating that older people are a bonus in our society, not merely an expense and finally parts of Australia seem to be waking up to this, albeit from the expense aspect. The recently retired government appointed advisor on ageing advocated that employers be encouraged to retain older people and to do so pointed out their value to society. Unfortunately her research didn’t extend to the fact that people retire because they are bored in their jobs and don’t feel appreciated, a fact which is unlikely to improve the situation.

To really tackle the problem of people retiring at 65, and possibly living for another 40 years with no purpose in their lives, we need to try to offer purposeful alternatives, such as encouraging the rising group of seniorpreneurs. To avoid joining the list of failed businesses these people need professional mentoring, preferably provided by the government. Another fruitful area could be provided by established volunteer organisations listening to the ideas their older volunteers have. It is no use trying to persuade employers that their older workers are valuable employees if the government itself is not providing a good example through projects it supports. I am continuously upset by the fact that the two main organisations who receive huge amounts of government funding in Australia to provide for, and involve, older people don’t themselves employ older people and therefore so often get things wrong about ageing. How insulting for older people. In contrast the organisation which does provide successfully for this age group, U3A, is self funded (it is run by older volunteer members) and is much more successful at the grass roots level.

Professional organisations are not necessarily any better. I would have liked to have stated our case at the World Congress on Public Health to be held in Melbourne next year. Most similar organisations offer a discount for pensioners but in spite of having ‘Life Stages’ as one of their themes, they apparently haven’t heard of, or don’t recognise, the later stage of life and don’t want to hear of it, in spite of having this discrepancy brought to their attention. Most conference attendees are paid for by their employers, including travel and accommodation costs, so affordability is not an issue for them. I hate it when an important organisation such as this suffers from ageism, particularly as the numbers of older people are growing rapidly, a factor they should be aware of. This organisation should be providing leadership in this field, not dragging their heels.

We shouldn’t be complaining about huge national debts, which most countries seem to have, if at the same time we ignore the contribution the most rapidly growing section of the population could make if its talents, experience and knowledge weren’t ignored. I don’t think it is just a question of ignoring us, I think this attitude contributes to ‘the problem’ by making us feel a burden and useless. As we think, so shall we become.

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.

 

Yesterday I had the privilege of watching a Webinar of a meeting of a group of Australian Aboriginal people, hearing the views of young and old, male and female. All of them are achievers, all of them have suffered as Aboriginal people who are treated as second class citizens in their country. Importantly the whole event was convened by Aboriginal people. It did strike me as a sharp contrast to the conferences I attend on ageing, which are organised by younger people, the speakers are largely younger people, as are the attendees. One day hopefully all groups who are treated as second class people will have their voices heard at a national level, although I suspect it will not happen in my lifetime.

Yesterday’s Webinar happened not long after a respected TV show had exposed the unintelligent, and cruel, treatment of Aboriginal youngsters in a state-run detention facility. The cruelty of those involved, from ministers responsible for overseeing it, to administers responsible for running it, to staff involved in handling the inmates, was unbelievable. Australia was shocked. Many years ago an investigation had been undertaken into the fact that Aboriginals end up in prison far more frequently than their non-Aboriginal counterparts. Since then the situation has worsened. I think, and hope, last week’s report is more likely to be effective because it had visual footage of the situation and therefore reached more people.

What struck me about yesterday’s Webinar was the lack of the ‘blame game’. The speakers were all being positive about what needs to be done, looking forward, not backward. They had very intelligent suggestions about the future, without blame or finger-pointing. These were the views of highly intelligent people, keen to look forward, not backwards.

If only those running this country, and I suspect the same applies in most other countries, would listen to such groups. The current situation leads to a lack of respect for parliamentarians, and one has only to look at current and past members of Parliament to realise the low standard required to be elected, for an answer to the current situation to be obvious. The behaviour of those , including those involved in positions of authority, particularly in places such as the juvenile detention centres, is often inexcusable. One way to overcome this is to expect and demand a high level of behaviour of all those whose salaries are paid by governments.

Meanwhile the Aboriginals I had the privilege of listening to yesterday, struggle to have their voices heard. We need to create an environment in which those who struggle to create a better world for all are given the respect they deserve and their voices are heard, particularly when they speak on behalf of those groups whose talents are frequently overlooked, from young to old. Think of the rich, in all meanings of that word, world it would create.

May those who are speaking up continue their fight until we have the better world they are fighting for. One day it will happen, I hope.

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.

So many changes are happening in the world that affects me, yet change can lead in different directions, not always based on the common good.

We’ve just had elections here in Australia which could take us either way, either to improve we way we live or worsen it. The British have had an even more traumatic vote on whether to leave the European Union or not and in the background the Americans are preparing to elect a new President. These are all happening in particularly prominent countries, whereas most of what is happening in the rest of the world tends to fit into the ‘more of the same’ basket, with decisions largely only affecting those living in that country.

The Australian election is important to me as it obviously affects me but whether we are affected locally or internationally, we are still dependant on a relatively small handful of people for decision-making guidance. The British vote was a frightening example of this. Two men with parallel backgrounds coming through the cream of the British education system came to opposite positions on whether to stay in the European Union or not.

How could this happen?  Surely with all the access they had to knowledge and information they should have come to similar conclusions, whether staying or exiting would be better for the countries involved, particularly given that their education and training should have enabled the leaders of the two sides to sort the available knowledge accurately and intelligently? Given that the decision taken will have a huge impact on the people involved it places the population in a very vulnerable position.

Other decision-making situations could have equally devastating results, particularly the US elections. Decisions taken there tend to affect far more than merely the people under that jurisdiction.

The general population needs more information and guidance and we need it from intelligent, well-educated people who are not driven by their own particular dreams and aspirations.

Change is inevitable as the world in its entirety changes. How we manage that change depends on the information given to us about particular situations and who gives it to us in terms of their own particular aspirations.

Is the problem the fact that our access to knowledge is changing and we are not yet trained to know how to deal with it? Meanwhile what are our decisions based on, and what should they be based on, particularly in the collective field of voting?

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.