Currently I am awaiting the examiners comments on my thesis. There won’t be much difference in my plans after that except that if I have the title ‘Doctor’ in front of my name it will give more credibility to what I say, particularly among researchers into ageing and the public at large. Whichever way the verdict goes I feel as though as an older person I have a split personality, my past and my age (now 75), and the two tend not to be compatible in the eyes of society. I often worry about people in old people’s homes (under whatever up-graded title these places now operate!) who are assessed on their wrinkles, not for the brains behind them. The concept of ‘old and senile’ is hard to change.

I have just been reading the work of people like Friedan and Butler, which applied to the situation of the ageing in the US. Like so many academics in this field they operated in a ‘sheltered workshop’ in which they were able to continue on with their work which largely meant mixing with younger people and the realties of life for other older people was not something they encountered. This seems to apply to the many older people who are able to continue with their work long past retirement age, including the older Australians I was privileged to interview for my thesis. It is the majority, the ones who retire without being able to replace work with something comparable, who are the visible sign of the ageing in the community.

These are the people who society groups as useless and a burden on the community. This is what I want to change by giving older people a belief in themselves and their capabilities. As I have pointed out before, this ageism attitude has parallels with sexism and racism. It seems as though society has to have a pecking order. If we can abolish ageism the world (and older people) will be much better but will society need to look around for another group to put at the bottom of its pecking order or will it learn to manage without such a hierarchy? We need to be alert for this but let’s get rid of ageism first.

 

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