Archives for posts with tag: ageing achievement

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.

 

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.

 

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

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

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

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

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.

During all the different stages of our lives we can set a pretty accurate time frame until we get to the stage called ‘ageing’. Death is such an exceptional occurrence when we are younger that we can pretty well ignore it. We can certainly ignore thinking about it.

We know pretty well how much of our lives we will spend at school, how much we will spend at University or training if that is what we plan to do, and how long our working lives are likely to be. Once we get to roughly 65 and think about retiring, then uncertainty starts to creep in. How long will we be retired for? This is difficult as it determines what activities we plan to take on after we have finished with work and how long our pensions or superannuation will have to last for.

As we move further into our retirement the uncertainty grows. How far ahead can we plan things for. Will it be a few years or perhaps decades? How physically fit will we be? This latter determines the type of tasks we can plan to do e.g. paint the inside of the house, and what type of needle craft or other hobbies will we still be able to do?

A few months ago a friend I had had for over 50 years passed away. We had lived in different cities for many years and as she got more fragile and didn’t travel I tried to visit her whenever possible. Each time we parted I think we both wondered if we would see each other again but it wasn’t a big issue as she had been frail for a while (she was over 90) and we just assumed we would catch up again in a few months.

Last time I visited her it was different. I hugged her goodbye but when I looked back at her I went back for another hug. We did this a few times. It was as though we knew it would be the last time we would see each other.

I often wonder why this happened. Did she know her time was limited? Did I know that this was to be the case? As we get older do we become aware of the time we have left and if so how do we know? Does frailty increase for some, making them aware of their limited lives?

I grew up with the story of my grandfather, a farmer, who moved in with his daughter when he had to give up his farm. He took over her huge kitchen garden and for the whole time he was with her he kept the family supplied with fruit and vegetables. One spring he finished the planting, had a stroke from which he never regained consciousness, and died a week later. I assume that as soon as he finished planting he realised his job was done and it was time to go.

This warning or awareness is something I think all older people must ponder. It ties in with the debate about whether we want to be resuscitated when the end is near. I certainly don’t want it, particularly now I’ve discovered how rarely it is successful. Is this part of the end of our lives something we should be thinking about and discussing? I don’t know. It all seems to be unknown.

I was listening to an interview with an Australian woman who has been fighting for equality for women for decades. It was a reminder that there is still a long way to go before people are judged on their talents, knowledge and ability rather on their gender. At about the same time the Prime Minister had called a meeting of a wide variety of groups to obtain their input into how to create a better, and more prosperous, Australia in future. I didn’t hear of any group representing older people being present and I suspect that there weren’t any. The trouble is that there aren’t any. The two major ones, both of which used to, and maybe still do, accept major grants to keep  afloat, don’t seem to believe in employing older people themselves so they certainly wouldn’t have an appropriate seat in the discussion.

Canada recently announced that it had more people over the age of 65 than under 15. I’m sure it will soon be joined by many other countries. We are so keen to promote ageism, just as for centuries we have promoted sexism, that we don’t look on older people as being a valid part of the economy. In both cases the country misses out on the talents, knowledge and skills, potential or otherwise, of a huge section of the population. I argue that in a highly competitive world we can’t afford to do this.

If we start fulltime work at 20 roughly, allowing for trades and university, and work until we are 65 then we have worked for 45 years of our lives. With the average life expectancy at roughly 85 (it soon will be) then we have another 20 years of life left if we retire at 65. For most of this time we will still be relatively fit. Do we really want to spend these years just filling time, finding things to do or would we prefer to be achieving, doing all the things we always wanted to do and achieve? One piece of research I came across found that people who leave work, retire, as soon as they can are people who feel dissatisfied and unfulfilled in their work. What a sad reflection on employers. One senior public servant told me that this happened in the public service. It certainly did with me but a found several other jobs which were more satisfying!

From the figures available we know that we are under-utilising our workforce based on gender and trying to fix it up but how long must we go on doing the same with problems based on age? I am not saying we should all continue with work, particularly fulltime work. What I am asking for is the opportunity for older people to use all our unused skills and ideas. It will happen in a more free thinking world in the future but what about missing out on them in the meantime. We live in a very competitive world. Can we afford to miss out on blatantly obvious solutions to many of our problems?

As with many of my friends my early days were affected by the fact that England, where I lived, was involved in a horrific war. My father was called up for service and was in the air force as part of ground troops. As soon as the troops moved forward he was part of the group which moved in, in Germany, to clear the ground for an airstrip to fly ammunition and supplies in to support them. Frightening as it must have been for him, it was equally bad for my mother who was not only aware of the danger he was in but knew that there was a good chance that either he would not return or would have horrific injuries. This unknown was one of the unwritten parts of the war.

As a small child I knew nothing of this. All I knew was that my mother worked hard to try to supplement her soldier husband’s meagre pay with whatever she could find to do, in her case sewing, and I didn’t see much of my father. My memories are of the camaraderie which was in our community at the time with people being there for each other, including sharing a beautiful humour whenever they could find it in the community. They were together as one.

I am reminded of this by the current display of unity, particularly in Europe, over the refugee crisis there. Suddenly borders are down and hearts and wallets and government coffers are opening up to help fellow humans in need. What a pity that it seems to take a crisis before we as humans stop being obsessed with our own small problems, needs and wants and look at those around us and the common good.

I think many of us were hoping that climate change, which threatens the planet we all share, would help us to pull together as a world but this is too personally distant for most people to get involved even at a minor level. It is through seeing more personal problems, such as the little boy who drowned, that we seem to get motivated.

What lessons can we take from this? The current crisis will pass, just as wars do, and we will all settle back into our mundane lives. Our news sources will once again be filled with murders, rapes, shootings and wars in distance places. Is there any way we could continue to pull together in unity to try to make to make our planet a unified place where we all pull together for the common good, and survival?

Meanwhile we need to remember that the people currently moving across Europe are not doing it from choice. Many of them will probably hope to return ‘home’ one day in spite of the mess and devastation they will find, just as those involved in the two great wars, and other minor clashes did and do. We are currently putting massive resources into trying to live on Mars. Would we take the unacceptable behaviours we are showing on this planet with us? Let’s practise pulling together here first.

The other day when I was shopping I couldn’t find an item I wanted and asked a fellow shopper. It turned out that she was an Asian lady with limited English but she managed to mime that it was in the next aisle but couldn’t tell me which side. When I went round there she was waiting for me with a smile on her face pointing to the item. I couldn’t help thinking that if there were more people like her in the world, who cared and wanted to help her fellow traveller, there would be less war and less violence.

We older people should be setting an example by also showing what humans can do to make the world a better place. So many older people feel that when they retire they have paid their taxes all their lives and can now be provided for without any obligations. They forget that as humans we all still need a role to play in our communities, and need to gain the respect of those around us. So many try to fill their lives with as much trivia as possible, such as lunching with other retirees, going to movies etc., generally telling people that they are ‘busy’, or ‘very busy’ failing to mention that they are busy filling their lives with trivia.

I am following a course on the history of the world and there is the idea that in early societies each group had to be self-sufficient, meeting all their needs from within the community. In today’s larger communities we are in much larger groups and have central bodies, such as councils and other authorities, to manage and provide for many of our needs. This in itself has taken away many of our individual responsibilities. Unfortunately it has also taken away many of our personal responsibilities and our identity. It is so easy to leave things to ‘them’. We think that as we get older we no longer need to have a contributing role to play in our community. We pretend that its OK for everyone else to provide for as many of our needs as possible. We forget that this attitude leaves us without self-respect so we immerse ourselves in this trivia so we don’t have time to face the reality of our situation.

We older people have so much to offer, so much knowledge, experience and wisdom yet so many of us are letting ourselves, and our fellow older people down, by our attitude. There is no happiness to be found in being bludgers in many areas of our lives, expecting others to help us out, when we could contribute ourselves. Our early ancestors, the ones who had just learned to walk upright, knew that. They had contributed to their communities all their lives but still felt that they needed to continue to do so for as long as possible. That way they retained the respect of their community.

The Asian lady, with her lack of English, still went out of her way to help. None of us have an excuse not to, no matter our age or our limitations. We will have a much better, more prosperous, more peaceful society if we do.

I frequently point out that we older people have so much to offer society and in the current negative attitude towards us this is largely wasted. This is easy to say, and theoretically it is easy to prove but when you come across an example of it actually happening the enormity of the situation is brought home.

We are becoming more and more aware of the movement towards increasing use of technology, including in the future, and there are frequent mutterings about our schools not meeting future needs. I recently heard one head of a technology company advocating children in primary schools being taught programming, for example. My first reaction is that there are unlikely to be any teachers equipped to do that. I suspect that there aren’t the resources available

I recently heard from a friend of mine who tells me that she is helping out at her grandson’s primary school with their gardening programme. She is thrilled because it also includes doing cooking with them which she loves. This should be a success story of a school using the resources available amongst the extended, retired part of their community. I should be giving them a ‘highly commended’ tick of approval. The problem with this story is that this lady is a retired ‘special education’ teacher who was absolutely brilliant in her work and much sought after before she retired. Can people at the school, particularly the Principal, look their struggling students with learning difficulties in the eye and feel that they are doing their best for them? The only reason they can is because they don’t think, and are not ‘trained’, to look at the resources available to them amongst their extended school communities.

It is not unusual to have grandparents involved in schools today. Some enterprising schools embarked upon this path many years ago, mainly with gardening, and have not even thought about cancelling it because it is so beneficial to all involved, including the children. For many children it is eye-opening to find that vegetables actually have to be grown in the ground before they get to the supermarket shelves!

My point is that it is time we extended the gardening experiment to include other areas based on the talents and skills other older people can bring to schools and that school Principals and boards go beyond gardening skills and look at other resources available to them. Schools will never have all the resources they need as they can never be afforded. The solution is to look at the unpaid help available to them.

As a retired maths/ public speaking and debating teacher I offered my services to my granddaughter’s school. I didn’t even get the courtesy of a reply!  I now don’t have a high regard for the Principal although her training also obviously seems to lack rigour.

As a country we are wasting the resources older people in the community can offer and schools are forever complaining that they lack the resources they need. Will schools, and those responsible for them, please put these two together?

This is only one small area, although a very vital one, in which the knowledge, skills and resources which older people have to offer are being wasted. Can we afford it, particularly when our children are our future?