The three ‘isms’ have a lot in common. All three treat the target group as second class citizens who are not as bright or as capable as themselves, and who shouldn’t have as many rights as they do. The big difference between the three is that sexism and racism are now illegal but ageism is not. As a result of this the extent of ageism is not recognised. I was interested to note that older persons in black townships in South Africa include ‘loss of respect for elders’ as part of elder abuse, although I doubt if this is acknowledged elsewhere.

A major problem with the present situation is that in research, older people are given the same treatment as women, or coloured people, were before the fight for equality by the latter groups began. When I go to conferences on ageing, there are very few older people either side of the podium. The few ‘token’ older people, forming a parallel to when research into women’s issues was done by men, and presented by men at conferences at which there were a few ‘token’ women, are equally expected to say very little. Sadly, most of the research into ageing in Australia is done by younger women who seem unaware of their own history and how they are repeating it with the older generation.

Currently, older people play a minimal part in research, usually only being involved in answering a questionnaire written by ‘youngsters’. Quality research should include the target group in formulating the research questions, writing the questionnaire or other research tool, analysing the results, and writing the report and the conclusions. Unfortunately, rather than seeing this as quality research, researchers see it only as a loss of control. Once older people do manage to become involved in research to this extent, the current inaccurate research will disappear off the shelves, just as male research into women’s issues did, for the same reason.

Far too often, research into questions on ageing contains huge holes simply because the researchers have no experience of ageing themselves and don’t involve ageing people. Given the large and increasing number of older people throughout the world, I suggest that research funding not be provided unless older people are involved to the extent suggested above. Otherwise the problems of ageing populations will not be met.