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I recently attended the national conference of Australia’s major social services organisation. I was dissappointed that many disadvantaged groups were discussed but there was very little reference to the ageing, in spite of the fact that in the forseeable future we will be a quarter of the population. When I questioned the organisers about this I was told that there were a number of areas they would like to be advocates for, including gender equity and ageing, but they just don’t have the resources. This makes it even more concerning that the two major groups who purport to represent older people (and receive government grants to do so) make no effort to consult the very people they claim to represent. National Seniors does not employ people over the age of 60, and local policy groups, comprised of older people, report that suggestions that they make are reduced to ‘crumbs’. The other organisation, Council of the Ageing, quite blatantly pays young, inexperienced researchers to write its policy documents.

It is hardly surprising that two days after the conference ended there were national headlines about abuse of older people in residential care- at a level that has more than doubled in the past year. It is now running into several thousand complaints per year. I suspect that this is a common problem in other countries. If a person is seen as frail and vulnerable there always seem to be people around who will take advantage of them.

I am becoming more aware of older people in the U.K. who are now achieving- people who were disadvantaged in their youth through being labelled as ‘lower class’ and not expected, or encouraged, to achieve. In a highly competitive world, countries can’t afford to miss out on the talents of large sections of their populations. In the meantime, it does make it even more important that older people use their later years to pursue talents that they were unable to pursue in youth, and to pursue new avenues.

This is the basis of my research. The later stage of life should be just as important as the other stages, and it should be an opportunity to pursue activities which were unavailable earlier in life, when the demands of children and mortgages took precedence. It should also be a time to explore new areas. At a recent dinner with an older friend of mine I happened to mention that when I finish my Ph D I want to try my hand at painting. She said that she was taking up the cello. I suggested that she perform at my first exhibition. We both laughed. It may be a dream that doesn’t come true but its better than not having dreams.

Meanwhile we need to empower older people so that they feel valued and wanted. This will make it harder for abusers to ply their trade as they will be aware that they are less likely to get away with it.