Archives for posts with tag: ageing population

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.

 

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.

 

I think that probably the worst side of ageing are the unknowns. I include among these the fact that we don’t know how much longer we will live and how unwell we may become and what form any disability will take. With the latter comes the concern about whether, how and if we will cope with it. Against this background of unknowns we try to create a productive lifestyle. We know we still have a lot to offer, even if many others don’t realise it!

These thoughts about unknowns came into my mind a few months ago when I began to realise that more people were treating me like an older person. For example, instead of getting to a pedestrian crossing and waiting for the traffic to stop it is now much more common for it to stop as I approach it. I think the fact that I am stooping more is contributing to the picture of ‘elderliness’.

So why am I stooping more, with the disadvantages this brings, such as not being able to reach high shelves? I assume it is because our bones deteriorate in thickness as we get older and therefore even our spines are not as straight. What other parts of me will become less efficient as time passes? Questions such as these form the great unknown of ageing.

Do we have our priorities right when we know so much about the moon and planets but so little about the lifespan of the human body, particularly as most of the world is undergoing population ageing? One of these has an immediate effect on this world, the other has been around since time began, and is likely to continue to do so, or is this too an out-of-date idea?

My last blog had a link to an article the World Health Organisation had about my work. It is easy to blame those who indulge in ‘ageism’ and look down on older people and treat us as children but it has occurred to me that just pointing out that this is an incorrect attitude is not enough. People these days like to have proof and I would encourage all older people who are achieving to submit their stories to the WHO website too. It is easy to say that all the criticism we older people receive is unfair and paints an incorrect picture of us. I think it’s also our responsibility to prove that our detractors have got it all wrong.

We have got so much to offer, so many ideas, so much knowledge and so much experience of life and human behaviour it seems sad when the world just dismisses us as little old men and women. We have so much to offer, but we need to show the world and change it’s attitude. We are the insiders when it comes to successful ageing. Meanwhile we need  to know more about what lies ahead of us in terms of our ageing bodies. It affects everyone eventually so it would be money well spent. Then we can just get on with achieving, making any necessary physical adjustments to our lives as we go, particularly if we have some idea of what lies ahead of us.

Click here to see my entry on the World Health Organisation’s Instagram feed
Most people would agree that the world is in a mess. Consider how clever humans are. The technological world we live in and our ability to travel beyond this planet, are just two of our many skills. What we don’t seem to be very good at is organising ourselves as the inhabitants of this planet. We are wrecking it by using too many of its resources and ignoring the effect of this, particularly in terms of air pollution and climate change. We also seem to lack the ability to set goals and aims for ourselves as societies. The fact that we are apparently incapable of controlling those whose aims are not in the public good, such as the current militants, is a sad reflection on our ability in this field.

One problem which is very much under the radar is the fact that across the world people are living longer and we don’t seem to know how to identify the effects of this, or what to do about it. The situation in developed countries is worse in the sense that the extra life span is really large and we still seem to be at first base in terms of working out how to deal with the situation.

It will become an ever increasing problem if we continue to view it as such, rather than seeing it for what it really is, a bonus. If we look at it objectively we have an increasing number of our wisest, most knowledgeable and experienced members of our community spending more time with us. Instead of looking at the situation in this way we tend to fob older people off as being ‘past it’ and of no further use to the community, simply because they have reached a particular age, rather than looking at their talents and abilities. We tend to exclude this group from society, pat them on the head and tell them to go off and enjoy themselves. As though they could, when they are given the impression that they are surplus to society’s requirements, particularly when we then start publically worrying about how much our attitude to them is costing us.

We are good at rocket science but not good at recognising the human wealth older people have to offer society. We should regard the elderly as a valuable human resource and utilise what they have to offer. I’m not ignoring the fact that the human body tends to deteriorate but we should be able to allow for this and the accompanying physical effects of ageing. It shouldn’t be an excuse to banish this group to the outskirts of society.

If we are to enable older people to continue to lead valuable lives, both physically and mentally, then it is up to society to rethink its attitude towards this group. If we don’t do this then we have to start not only adding up the costs of this policy to society but also to the individuals involved.

What a different world we would live in if someone worked out that the most prosperous and happiest society was the one which catered for the needs, and talents, of all its citizens and didn’t overlook groups such as the elderly who still have so much to offer. We’d all look at our ageing populations in a new light and our own time in this stage of life in a positive sense.

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?

When I was looking after my grandchildren the other day my grandson came across an iPad. He immediately switched it on and started swiping the screen. I am sure that this behaviour is regularly repeated in homes across the world but what makes this a bit different is that he is only 14 months old! I assume he had seen his older sisters doing this and knew what an iPad was for and how to use it.

The event led me to speculate on his future and the very different lifestyle he could lead. By the time he is an adult we will probably have solved the problem of getting to Mars, or be well on the way to getting there. He could well choose to be involved in that. I can only hope that this may be a choice for him and that we haven’t wrecked the earth so much that those coming after us have no choice but to seek a more comparently friendly environment in which to live.

We tend to leave choices about managing our environment to governments, forgetting that there are so many of us on this planet that governments have to make the big choices but any decisions we are able to make collectively will have an equal effect. A friend pointed out today that she had enough to live on comfortably but this raises the question of what ‘comfortably’ means. For many people in poorer parts of the world what we mean by this expression, to them would be defined as luxury. We tend to take for granted that having enough to feed ourselves on, having adequate shelter (frequently above ‘adequate’) and be suitably clothed is what we define as enough but so many others who share this planet with us are lacking in at least one of these areas. Should we be more willing to restrict ourselves to ‘comfortably’ and thus save the extra strain on the planet our living more than comfortably creates? Where should we direct our ‘surplus’ in order to create maximum effect?

These are the debates we should be having to preserve our planet to make it habitable, and comfortably so, for those who come after us. I’m sure that I and other grandparents would hate to think that we had lived our lives so selfishly, going beyond ‘comfortably’, that the planet we left behind wasn’t suitable for our precious grandchildren. I believe the time has come to be having these debates, changing our ambitions, and recognising our collective responsibility.