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It is almost a year since I got very mixed results from my Ph D examiners and this has given me more time to think about the ageing situation. It took six months for the University to decide to offer me another year to resubmit with the help of a new supervisory panel. In that time I was able to detach myself from the academic approach to ageing and look at the (ageing) world around me, giving me a new objectivity.

I am even more convinced than ever that we need to view the years beyond 65 as productive as those before, in terms of achievement, not necessarily financially. The need for financial return often stops our creativity in the pre 65 years although some still manage to find what they really want to do and are able to do it. Post 65 many live in a world where financial and family commitments are no longer our top priority, providing a new freedom.

At the official level thinking seems to be ‘more of the same but at least cost’ to meet the country’s needs in light of the ageing population. The current Federal Minister has appointed a review committee of people in their early 60’s looking at ways for older Australians to be ‘economically productive’, which indicates how people who have not yet reached the true ageing years can get it so wrong. I suspect that if the report reaches the media when it is published the cry of ‘work ’til you drop’ will be reworked. After perhaps 50 years in the work force older people don’t want to feel obliged to be economically productive. Encouraging us to use this ever-increasing period of our lives to follow our dreams, whether financially productive or not, should be our choice and we should be enabled and encouraged to do so, regardless of whether such a course bring financial returns or not.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data shows that life expectancy in the last 20 years has increased by 5.6 years for men and 3.9 for women. According to another recent report the number of people aged 85 and over will increase by 350% in the next 40 years. How do we view the fact that this later stage of life is getting increasingly longer and producing an increasing number of older people? Do we picture them sitting drooling in chairs in a nursing home waiting for each year to pass (with many suffering from Alzheimer’s disease), or out in the community contributing to society, enjoying the status such involvement brings? The choice is ours as a community. If we view older people as senile and not worth much then the ageing community will fulfil that expectancy. If instead we see the gifts, talents, knowledge, wisdom and other desirable assets this section of the population has then this will be the role they take on. Older people need to be regarded in a better light and encouraged to utilise what they have to offer, not necessarily in a financial context. This need for recognition of non-financial assets among older people won’t happen until society realises the need to listen to their voices, not allowing younger researchers and workers in the field to dictate the current inaccurate agenda which is what is the situation now.

The current situation is expensive for the community in terms of care provision and personally expensive for individual older people. If an older person can only respond ‘retired’ when asked what they do then this is a way of saying ‘I’m old and not worth much and capable of even less’ which is completely without any community status which everyone needs. Without status we may as well sit drooling in a chair and hope the end comes quickly and painlessly.

Meanwhile I need to try to conform to the rules required of a thesis which I suspect dampens, if not worse, creativity. Given the number of thesis documents submitted each day how many are really contributing to making the world a better place, in any field of study or is the format discouraging the type of study which should be encouraged? Steve Jobs didn’t need academic backing – he just managed to find an environment in which his creativity and imagination flourished. Look how he contributed to the world, not only making it a better place but creating an environment where others could take his ideas to new heights. We need to rethink our world, particularly its creativity, particularly with respect to our ageing population.