Archives for posts with tag: conferences

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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.

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.

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’ve just been to another conference on ageing run by a University and once again there was the weakness of lack of involvement of older people in the research. As a result many of the projects did not have valid outcomes as the samples were too small as older people presumably could see their limitations and dropped out of them.

Most of the people involved in the research projects were women. Apparently they have never thought through a parallel situation in which research into women’s issues was being done completely by men with female involvement only as research samples. The women would realise the futility of the exercise and drop out, as the older people did in the research presented at the conference.

The projects were all financed by a charitable institution and were worth millions of dollars. How much more wisely this money would have been spent if older people had access to it, recognising the research required and using University researchers as advisors! I suspect that we would then get valid results. Not only that but we older people are aware of the issues which need investigating. It is no use pointing out that there is a perceived problem with an ageing population if we are not asked what the problems are.

It was interesting that the presenter of the only valid, and successful, piece of research said that they had involved all stakeholders in the project. He listed these in a very matter-of-fact way and included older people as though this was the obvious thing to do and that the research required it, which of course it did. Those listening, including those whose research was less successful, didn’t seem to be aware of the difference.

I couldn’t help feeling that when it was first recognised that more people were living longer and that this would present a different kind of society, there was little competition for research in Universities on the subject and hence those who entered the field weren’t our top scholars. High quality researchers couldn’t see the value in this field and didn’t enter it so the standard has not been high, with a few exceptions over the years.

It is a depressing situation as we will continue to hear about the ‘problems’ of an ageing population with no hope of quality research into the subject. We older people will continue to be ‘blamed’ for living longer and hence causing the problem. Those who presented their research at the conference will one day themselves be elderly and will probably be frustrated by being regarded as a problem, particularly a financial drain on resources. What a different world it would be if society could look on us older people, not as a problem, but as an asset. We would all live in a much better and richer, in all its meanings, society.

Next week I make the trip to one of our coastal towns to present a paper at a conference for people who work in the area of aged care and researchers in the field. I always enjoy mixing with the former group. It is hardly surprising that they are an extremely caring and fun-loving group of people given the often not very pleasant tasks they frequently have to undertake. A major downside of ageing is that as we get older we often lose our ability to control our body functions and we may not be competent to clear up the mess ourselves. These are the wonderful people who cheerfully step in and do it for us.

Many years ago I put myself through uni by working in a private mental hospital in the holidays. On my first day I was asked to help one of the nurses to clean up an elderly lady who had had an accident in the night. As we eased her into the bath my own stomach was reacting and I asked the nurse how long it took to get used to this. She just said cheerfully, as her cap floated in the bath among the debris, “You never do”. What interested me was that the elderly lady belonged to one of the richest families in the world. Their money enabled her to live in a private room but couldn’t spare her from anything else, including the dementia which had taken over her life.

One of the reasons I enjoy speaking to, and mixing with, these aged care workers is that their work can make such a difference to our lives as we get older. I don’t think they realise how important their work is, particularly as they are often paid less than their counterparts in mainstream hospitals, which is usually a measure of how society values work. The public servants who sit in offices earning large salaries and who determine aged care policy seem to have little knowledge of the reality of the situation. I recently came across the expression ‘Consumer Directed Care’ which I think is the new title for the service which provides care for people who can still manage, with help, to live in their own homes. This is disgusting  ‘publicservicespeak’ and is not something the clients, older people, can relate to. It is hardly surprising that initial research into the effectiveness of this new approach is that there has been no improvement in outcomes but a rise in anxiety among the recipients of the service. If those providing the service, and older people, had been asked, we would have come up with a more user-friendly approach and hence an improvement in the results.

I guess we will just have to be patient until the large salary earning public servants realise that they don’t have the answers. In the meantime public money isn’t being used as effectively as it should and the lives of so many older people aren’t as rich as they could be. What a waste all round. Meanwhile I’ll go and enjoy the company of these wonderful people.

To me the worst part about getting older is the uncertainty. The ultimate is not knowing how much longer we have left on this earth- it could be anything from 1 to 20 years (it may be even longer but I assume that beyond then I will be a very different me, particularly physically).
Last week I got the flu. I had had the vaccine months previously but apparently when they were deciding which strains to include this year they missed one which led to a flu epidemic some weeks ago (goodness knows why I’ve waited until now!). Normally the vaccine works for me and I haven’t had flu for decades. In those days I was much younger and fitter so I could just write a week off then take up where I left off. Today ageing makes things very different. I still don’t know when I can tick it off and move on and be back to normal.
One of my elderly friends has been frustrated by the restrictions of pneumonia recovery for weeks.
Apart from these interludes providing a temporary but longer than before setback we still have to allow for the fact that prolonged setbacks could occur at any stage, including the ultimate setback of the end of it all. It makes life planning very difficult. Should I try to get everything done now as though I haven’t long or can I work my way leisurely through what I want to achieve and assume I have enough time, and the capacity, to get everything done? Maybe as this will give me a much more enjoyable life I should stick to it and hope that if I don’t finish what I want to do others will take over and complete it. Some of the things I want and aim for, such as an older person representing us at the United Nations and older people running conferences on ageing are unlikely to occur for a quite a while (decades) anyway. For the latter what I want would mean we older people would be a majority on the organising committees, we would provide the majority of speakers and the majority of the audience at conferences on ageing. I can’t see any of that being achieved in my lifetime. Those involved in research into ageing are unlikely to admit that without us older people their knowledge of ageing is limited. I’ve just finished reading some recent research into the volunteering areas in which retirees put their time and effort. The book involved a large number of researchers across several European countries and would have involved a lot of expense leading to this result. Oops! What they should have said was that these were the areas of volunteering currently available for older retirees. I am arguing that the talents, expertise and knowledge of older people should be harnessed to allow for the creativity older people could bring to the community if given the opportunity. This would open up new areas for volunteering. This is the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow societies are currently missing out on.
I wonder to what extent my somewhat morbid thoughts are inspired by the fact that I bet on the horse that died in the recent Melbourne Cup? He was very, very valuable and I assume that no expense would have been spared on his health needs yet he still managed to have a heart attack doing what he had been specifically trained to do. I don’t stand a chance compared with him!!!