Last week I attended the annual conference of the Australian Association of Gerontologists in Hobart. It is now 5 years since I attended one of their conferences and little has changed. Unfortunately ageing study is a growing field and tends to attract mainly less than first class academics, which results in poor quality research. At the first conference I was horrified by the lack of participation by older people. It was like having a conference on women’s issues without women. It would have been acceptable the century before last but not in the 21st century. Unfortunately in ageing research the lack of participation of this group is just accepted.

At a conference 6 months after my original encounter with this organisation I presented a paper on involving older people. I was rudely rubbished by the president-elect at the time and her supporters applauded her comments. Little has changed. Even those who do involve older people in their research (never throughout the project) use such small numbers that their work has little application beyond their project. One of the main speakers at the conference commented on involving older people (marginally) as though it was a new idea.

For real participation, and high quality research, older people should be involved in formulating the research question, writing the research tool (such as a questionnaire), analysing the results and writing up the report. Where older people are not trained for this such training should be provided. Not only would it produce better research results but it would prevent researchers making fools of themselves through comments which show a lack of understanding of the issues involved with ageing.

I attended the conference dinner, which I usually avoid, as I did 5 years ago. Again little had changed. The so-called ‘music’ was too loud for conversation so we were left to watch somewhat inebriated academics doing what they called ‘dancing’, which seemed to involve waving various bits of their bodies around. The person from South Korea I was sitting next to managed to say, in a moment of quiet, that they would be ashamed of their behaviour next day, until I pointed out that the alcohol was flowing so freely they wouldn’t remember. I would have loved to have talked with those with international experience around me but it was far too noisy.

This is the life of those involved in research into ageing. Frankly I believe that older people deserve better than this. If the ageing population is a problem then it is mainly because our voices are not being heard and those researching these problems are not setting high enough standards for themselves. It is sad that their’s are the voices being listened to, and getting the grant money, while the elderly can’t afford to attend such conferences and be heard.

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