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Two recent events are giving me negative thoughts about our Universities in particular. The first is the closure of our manufacturing industries in quick succession and the apparent lack of an alternative solution to avoid an increase in the unemployment rate. The negative outcome of these events not only causes deep distress for the workers involved, particularly as many have worked for decades for these employers, but is also harmful to the health of the country. The dismissed workers have not only lost their jobs but also status in the community and the country as a whole is faced with declining taxation income and increasing benefit requests. Many people saw this coming, particularly with the higher wages of our workers, but apparently it wasn’t at a high enough level for action to be taken early. There is one school of thought which points out that jobs frequently disappear from society and new ones take their place as society modernises. Whilst this is true this has a pace attached to it which is probably unlikely to be matched by the current pace of job loss.
Already some industries are calling out for an increase in qualified migrants as it seems we are short of staff in some fields. Many of us are left questioning why we can’t train people for the jobs in which there are vacancies rather than depriving other countries, often poorer countries, of the qualified staff they need themselves.
These problems require a think-tank approach which I would have thought was a field in which our Universities would have excelled but apparently not. I recently read an article about the way the US tackled the problem of a diminishing manufacturing work force 20 years ago. Apparently they worked out that manufacturing was not the place for their workers in the future but rather problem solvers were the way to go. Surely our Universities, either alone or combined could find a viable solution for us at this point in time. Wasn’t it possible for someone in a relevant position here to realise that manufacturing was not going to be a viable path in future and planned for an alternative?
The second input I had into the way Universities and other research institutions currently work and their role in society was the fact that I am having difficulty getting backing for my own research. The only cost envisaged at this stage is the cost of getting it approved. Apparently the paper work for this is now huge and expensive, even before research gets off the ground. I can’t help feeling there is an Alice-in-Wonderland situation arising here. In the past I would like to think projects got off the ground based on merit now it seems to be based on how many people can be employed in fulfilling and examining the paperwork for projects. Such expensive bureaucracy results in actual, real life research ending up in unopened computer files while the country misses out on research which would have moved us forward and improved life for many. Is that what happened to research into an alternative to manufacturing?
Maybe Universities should be ranked, and awarded funding, based on the amount of human good they are contributing to, particularly when applied to research. I’m not sure what current benchmark Universities are applying to themselves but this may be one reason why very few of the Australian ones have a good world ranking.

The other day I was talking to a friend who regularly takes her 85 year old father to medical appointments. She says some of the medics are OK but others just ignore her father and talk to her and she has to politely point out to them that her father is actually the patient and he is perfectly capable of speaking for himself.
Once again this week we have been reminded in the news of how many older people there are in Australia and how many more there will be in the future. This information is provided merely on a cost basis (in this instance how much our pensions will cost) with no indication that we are anything but a burden on the community or the positive ramifications of our numbers. We are actually a huge industry with many opportunities both in marketing terms and in specialised industries including the health industry. There are enough of us now to warrant a Department of Ageing Health as I mentioned last time. If we don’t recognise the situation intelligently costs go up.
I wonder how the medics who engage in the behaviour above would feel if they were treated like this? I wonder if they realise that it makes us feel useless and worthless. Engendering such feelings in their patients can only add to our health problems and therefore health costs. Depression among older people is a major problem which situations like this only contribute to. I remember reading a comment by an older person about her doctor, she reckoned he was OK but he had a deathbed manner! With a feisty reaction like this using a deathbed approach towards her was entirely inappropriate.
Some branches of medicine, such as psychologists, do include training in this field for people entering the profession but even in branches of health where this is provided I suspect it isn’t available as supplementary training for those who have been in the profession for a while. Many people currently practising medicine would have entered the profession before the relatively sudden increase in the number of older people was recognised. They would have had no training in this quite different branch of their profession.
The present situation outlined above causes anguish amongst older people and isn’t the most efficient way to provide medical care for this growing part of the population. It adds to cost.
I also heard about workers in a particular group of residential care facilities being reminded in their induction that they must always treat the residents with respect because after all this is their home. I wish I could feel that this was the instruction given to all staff working in aged care facilities, particularly those who work amongst the frail.
If we don’t recognise older people as the same as the rest of the community but older and perhaps a bit more frail we older people are given the impression that we are useless and add to the costs of helping us.

For the past 8 years I have been working towards the goal of gaining a Ph D from my study of ageing, which was mainly focussed on establishing a base for aging successfully. Most of the study was part-time and I combined it with part-time work for most of the time. I’ve now reached that goal with a memorable graduation last week in which the University certainly knew how to make us feel special, particularly as it was held in the great hall at Parliament House.
I now need to work on new goals. I started writing a book about my studies some time ago and am now waiting for the reject slip from the first publisher! Several people have told me that I have bestseller material on my hands but getting a publisher to recognise this is another matter as they have to reduce the situation to dollars and cents. I am frequently reminded that the author of the Harry Potter books had something like 14 rejections before she was accepted (wonder how many heads rolled on that one!). I’m not sure I could be that persistent.
Meanwhile what are my new goals? Mainly I would like to work through a University to see if what I found in my research, the main requirements for successful ageing, could help to stop the incidence of, or reduce the progress of, Alzheimer’s disease. Baroness Susan Greenfield, a British expert in the field, lent her support to my research by arranging with Alzheimer’s Australia to allow me access to their members. All I need now is a University to agree to back this work. So far I have approached 3 Australian Universities and been met by a wall of silence, with not even an acknowledgement. Not only is this bad manners but suggests that their own research record is not what it could be. I don’t think that applying to an overseas University would be very practical. Do I let an idea which could prevent people either getting this horrific disease or at least slow its progress go to waste? I wonder if there is still a bias against me by the Universities because I am a woman and/or because I am an older person?
Meanwhile on a more positive front I have been aware that my research was restricted to older people living in the community because this was the only group I could have access to statistics on. After all, most people who go into residential care do so because they are unable to look after themselves physically so in theory they should still be able to lead fulfilling lives, particularly on the internet if that is their limitation. I now have the invitation to access such a centre which I am looking forward to. Maybe my research will progress in this direction.
Certainty in life would be desirable but we can never be sure the extent to which bias works against us. Such behaviour works against countries reaching their full potential.

Yesterday I attended a conference on Aged Care Policy at Australia’s top university, The Australian National University, with many of its senior staff members attending plus a couple of overseas expert visitors. I was so disappointed with the standard. Three of the speakers didn’t use power point which, given that approximately 75% of the population learn visually, meant that many of the audience were disadvantaged. Even some of those who did use it misused it. The golden rule is to only have up to 7 lines of text on any slide- many presenters put as much as they can on a slide and keep on talking. I prefer to either listen or read- I find it difficult to do both at once. When graphs are used audiences should be given time to absorb anything other than a very simple graph and the speaker needs to explain what the graph is showing. I sometimes think that with some speakers the purpose of a slide is an attempt to impress the audience, not to actually tell them anything. At one point yesterday the convener of the session kept asking questions about a particular slide- obviously he was having problems with it too. Given his academic history the fault was obviously with the speaker. None of these errors makes for professional presentations. Those making them go to great lengths to research their fields but then try to explain their work to others through amateur presentations and don’t apply the same standard of professionalism to this latter aspect of their work. The result of yesterday’s conference was a missed opportunity for the audience to learn.

Needless to say this lack of professionalism lowered the tone of the conference. Add to this the invitation only seemed to have gone to a selected few people in academia and the members of the public service (I stumbled on it by accident) which obviously reduced the extent of contributions from the floor. Even though it was on Aged Care (and supposed to be a dialogue) there were few older people participating and apparently the invitation had not been extended to aged care providers so there were even fewer of them, if any. Aged Care is a huge and expensive part of both state and national budgets and involves a large section of the population, particularly when we include workers in the industry, and needs a much wider involvement from all relevant sections than we had yesterday.

What really concerns me is that none of the suggestions made and ideas canvassed makes a contribution to older people believing in themselves and being made to feel that they and their lives are worthwhile, when they are not involved. Even if we can come up with a recipe for acceptable and appropriate standards in health care for older people this approach only meets their physical needs. The way it is being organised, if this conference is typical, does nothing for their self-esteem. The days of Universities indulging in Ivory Tower knowledge and politics belong to the last century.

Next June I will be travelling to Seoul for an International Conference organised by the Gerontology and Geriatrics Associations which will hopefully be more inclusive. I entered 4 abstracts in the hope that one would be accepted and have ended up being asked to make 1 oral presentation and 3 posters. From what I have heard about South Korea I am expecting a high standard as they seem to be making great progress in so many areas. It will be interesting to see firstly their attitude towards their own older people and secondly the provision they make for them, both at family and state level. Conferences invite contributions from all over the world yet the attributes of the host country still seems to shine through.

In aged care, and any aspects of ageing, it is vitally important that older people are involved throughout the process for it to make a meaningful contribution to successful ageing. This is largely reflected in the extent to which older people are invited to, and do, participate in any form of conference.

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.


One of the depressing things about getting older is that you see governments making the same policy mistakes at roughly twenty year intervals, and other problems which governments seem to assume will go away if they don’t acknowledge them! Policies that fall into the first category are the regularly revised school league tables and the cost to the community of people who are unemployed. The second category includes the problem of mothers in the workforce with its associated paid maternity leave argument.

The mother/worker role conflict is far too important to pretend it will go away or solve itself. It’s at least a couple of decades since we recognised it but have never really tackled it, probably because it is seen as women’s business. Providing full-time child care was seen as the answer but there doesn’t seem to have been many studies on the effects of this. One study (Guensberg 2001) focussed on 1200 children in the US in childcare from birth to kindergarten, although the summary I read did not say whether this was full or partial day care. They found these childcare children less cooperative and tended to fight more. They were also more likely to talk back to teachers and be disruptive. On the positive side they scored better on language tests.

If we add to this picture the false idea that most parents have adopted that ‘more material goods are better and will make us happier’ and are working long hours to achieve this, we are bringing our kids up in a world that is full of material goods but short on the more important issues such as parental care and love and interest associated with this, and which children need for their development. Parents may think that their kids know that they love and care about them but what their kids tell their teachers is often very different. Parents think that working long hours to earn more to shower their kids with more possessions shows their kids that they love them but unfortunately this is not what their kids need. The only way to express love for ones children is the opposite,  to spend time with them and take an interest in them.

Unless we stress how important it is for parents to spend time with their children throughout their lives into adulthood we will create a generation that we are disappointed in and which won’t meet the country’s needs. If children associate work with taking their parents away from them they won’t be impressed with it. Nor will they be inspired to achieve at school if there is nobody really interested in their achievements.

So this brings us back to the situation of the working Mum. Young women today are faced with the dilemma of staying home and bringing their children up as they would like, whilst their male colleagues move up the career ladder, or keeping their careers intact and putting their children in child care, or not having children at all. The increasing age of women having their first child is an attempt to establish their careers before starting their families but this is only a partial solution.

Some fathers are seeking their own solutions by taking time out, either fully or partially, to help bring up their children. Unfortunately they often get mocked for having a ‘mummy’ role. What society should do is the opposite and cold shoulder those fathers who don’t take time out to do their share of the parenting. We should be asking what is wrong with them that they aren’t sharing the most important role they will ever have in their lives, a role which puts their so-called ‘work career’ in the shade. This is the only way we will solve the discrepancy between men and women in the workplace, both in terms of numbers and earnings, and do the right thing by the next generation.

The problem is that if we adopted this approach most of our decision makers would be among those found to be lacking.  We all know of parents who have taken a leading role in society but whose children have gone off the rails. Dad (usually) achieved his success at a huge cost to his child. We need to create a society which regards both parents as equally important.

By elevating parenting to the same status as a career both parents have the opportunity to achieve twice, once as a parent and once in their careers. The current situation means that women can underachieve in the workplace and successfully parent, or the opposite. As a society can we risk missing out on the skills of half the population or of endangering the next generation? Let’s move to a win/win situation for everybody by giving parenting the same status as a career.

The other evening I attended a meeting on education convened by  two of our federal politicians. I came away very distressed about their views and the fact that it is our very young people who are paying the price of the governments mistakes.

Most of the discussion focussed around the Myschool website, set up by our now Prime Minister when she was Minister of Education. It seems to be based solely on her personal experience of education system which is very biassed. Obviously she is unaware of this. As one who went on to become a lawyer she does not realise that she has the type of intellect for whom the system was set up, and caters for, and the much larger majority who do not fall into this category have to put up with it as best they can. She would have very few friends in this latter much larger group.

The Myschool site lists each school’s results in 5 different academic categories and compares them with those of the rest of the nation and with ‘similar’ schools, and also provides details of the school’s income from all sources including the fees that parents pay. This then provides an income league with all the top private schools heading the list. At the bottom of course are the poorest schools which are then labelled ‘disadvantaged’. The lack of knowledge of Education by the Prime Minister is apparent here. There have been numerous studies showing that if you give the label to groups of students, either class groups or schools, of disadvantaged they will take it on board and achieve correspondingly. They take the idea of being inferior on board and achieve accordingly.

This isn’t just theoretical rhetoric. We discuss education in the sociology course I tutor at University and students from private schools in the past have vaguely felt that they have had a better education than state school students. I have noticed that since the Myschool site was introduced the gap has widened. Private school students are now adamant that they have had a better education and the state school students that they have had an inferior one. When I point out that I have taught in both and there is no difference the private school students get very irate. When I point out that I did relief teaching in one of our top private schools a couple of years ago and walked out in disgust at what I found they don’t want to hear about it. I even point out that past research has shown that students from state schools tend to do better than students from private schools at University but they don’t want to hear about that either. I think the problem is that private school parents pay huge sums of money for their children’s education (enough to provide a very nice deposit on a house or set them up in business instead) and can’t even contemplate that the money may be being spent unwisely, and that they have swallowed hook, line and sinker the private schools sales talk. The fact that it may have disadvantaged their children if they get to University isn’t even contemplated.

The other issue of course is that education is about far more than just the 5 academic abilities measured on the website, even if they were measured accurately which doing a short test every couple of years does not do. Add to the mix valuable school time (often weeks) being taken up coaching the students for the tests and the ‘fiddled’ results obtained by discouraging low achievers from attending school on the day of the test and the whole test scenario disappears into farce. Yet not only have we subjected our whole school system to this stupidity but we are creating a two tiered society, the education haves and have-nots, which again is a very regressive move.

What really upsets me is that I have been involved in education for so long that I have seen so many of these fads come and go, leaving a damaged community behind. One of the suggestions one of the MP’s made at the meeting was that we need to attract more brighter people to careers in education. This would help to provide a more intelligent education system.  The trouble is that those we do attract take one look at the job and move on, which means that the people who get to the top, and should be advising the Minister, are not the brightest people. Our highly intelligent teachers realise that having to prepare students for publically published test results, a league table based on flawed results, is a ridiculous idea and they move on to fields where their talents can be fully utilised. Unfortunately this is a self-perpetuating system. Given the fact that Australia has to not only survive but also succeed in a highly competitive world we can’t afford to be distracted by Minister’s whims.

I have always felt that having my research sitting in a thesis on a dusty shelf was a bit of a waste and I have always been determined to publish it as a populist book. I have now even abandoned the thought of publishing articles in appropriate journals they usually have limited circulation and the audience is almost 100% younger people who wouldn’t appreciate the relevance of it.

Currently my thesis is with three examiners, hopefully with intimate knowledge of older people, and not obtained from what other younger researchers have written. There are too many holes in this type of research, all theory and no practice.

Meanwhile I am having a fruitful time putting my research into a book which is aimed at older people themselves, and also pre-aging people. It is so different writing in a more personal style, in which there is no word limit and no longer does each word have to be formal and necessary. What makes it easier is that I am not writing about ‘them’ but about ‘us’ as an older person myself. By continuing my career until the age of 73 I know what is possible because I am doing it myself.

I am continuing to read the latest books about brain plasticity and how increasingly important this is to older people. The old ‘use it or lose it’ saying has now been amended to ‘use it as much as possible’. With an anticipated 1.13 million Australians predicted to have Alzheimer’s disease by 2050 a scary picture is presented. One author pointed out that we have got ourselves into an unacceptable predicament and we need to work towards extending brain health to that of life expectancy. I still feel that research into Alzheimer’s disease focusses on finding a cure, not prevention. This is cynically tied in with the fact that the organisations doing the research are all medical people who can’t look outside the square, nor does their careers support a non-medical prevention approach.

We are in the midst of an election in Australia. It really saddens me that neither party has announced a policy on our Aboriginal people, in spite of world condemnation of our treatment of them. Presumably the politicians don’t feel that their votes are worth chasing.

Since the voice of older people is only heard through the young people employed by the major senior organisations, the situation as regards this section of the population is much easier, although the policies are often irrelevant as far as genuine older people are concerned.

I hope I can find an international publisher for my book as I think its relevance stretches beyond Australia.

So many countries are aware of the fact that their populations are ageing and that this is likely to be expensive, but go no further.

I was made aware of this by Underhill in his book ‘Why we buy’. There is general talk of the baby boomers being different but there seems to be little definition of how different. Underhill details this difference. He says that ”They came of age during the fat, self-indulgent ’50s, ’60s and ’70s”. Among other points he makes is that they didn’t absorb ‘the quaint notion that to be old is to accept infirmity and inability stoically, as one’s lot in life’.

After reading his comments I felt much more hopeful that my research results, that the post retirement, later stage of life can be just as productive as the earlier stages, are likely to be accepted by this newly emerging group of older people.  I argue that this later stage is a wonderful opportunity to find your true self, your hidden and latent talents. It is a time when most older people are much freer of commitments than they were in previous stages- for many the kids are off their hands and the mortgage is paid for. There is time and money freedom so why not use the time to follow old dreams which disappeared under those commitments- or find new ones!

I was much younger than my fellow students in high school and got laughed at for still drawing stick figures. I assumed I was useless at art. Now I can’t wait to see if this was really true. I’ve got loads of books on the subject (I hope they really are for dummies!) and my kids gave me the necessary pencils and paints for Christmas. As soon as I’ve handed in my thesis (currently at the editing stage) I want to start being an artist- after I’ve turned my thesis into a book and painted my neglected house! There are so many opportunities when you are older! A lot of older people take up painting and find they are quite good at it I hope I join them! One of my older friends has decided to learn to play the cello so we decided she would play at my first art exhibition! Such stuff as dreams are made of!

I get upset when I meet an older person and ask them what they do and they say “I’m busy”. If you push further to ask what they are doing they say “I’m just so busy”. I always assume that they are being busy just filling in time with as many things as they can- appointments, lunches etc- but have no purpose in their lives. Those who do have a purpose are usually quite eager to tell you about it. This is important as it seems to be widely accepted that our brain cells die as we age and we need to build new connectors between those that are left. We can do this by being involved in something interesting, exciting and productive, finding the talented side of ourselves. Yunus, author of  ‘Banker to the Poor’ reckons that all human beings have the potential to be entrepreneurs, and he works with the poorest of the poor. How much more chance have the rest of us not so disadvantaged to find our entrepreneurial selves.

As individuals we need to look to our futures as older people as being a time to find our talented selves. Governments also need to find an environment to facilitate this. Older people have so much to offer and we need to be given the chance, and to live in an environment in which this can happen.