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The answer to this question is obviously yes and I wonder how much we will have progressed by this time next year. The main problem still seems to be the lack of involvement of older people. I firmly believe that we will never make worthwhile progress until research is not just done on older people but with older people. We older people seem to be treated like aliens, living on the same planet but with no communication between us. The sad part is that researchers don’t seem to realise that later in their lives they too will join the aliens and be outcasts!

The other evening I happened to stumble on a TV program discussing the latest research on ageing, with the presenter herself an elderly journalist in her 70’s. How refreshing. She could, and did, ask all the questions older people have on this topic. The program included long-running research such as the nun’s study as well as more recent work such as the effect of exercise comparing walking with table tennis. The latter created a problem as it was difficult to isolate the effect of the physical activity and the socialising that accompanied it. More recent work such as the effect on the brain of zapping US soldiers whilst using computers and the effect of injecting older mice with blood from younger mice was also shown. I’m not sure how practical these procedures would be for older people no matter how beneficial! At least we could find out through this TV program what is going on.

To me the big weakness of the present situation is its apparent lack of practicality. Research tends to be on the ageing brain or on the ageing body with no acknowledgement that the two are connected. We are beginning to realise how widespread depression is in the general community and how life threatening this is and how it affects almost every aspect of life, yet with older people we don’t even seem to be off the ground looking at this aspect of ageing. The ‘alien’ viewpoint seems to be that these people are going to die anyway so why worry? Nobody seems to look on older people as a huge resource if allowed to function to the best of their ability, both mentally and physically.

No where is this more visible than facing another year with conferences on ageing without the ageing! Many, if not most, conferences give cost reductions to student participants but not retirees. The message is that students, with no experience of ageing, are more valuable participants than the real experts, older people themselves. Every year I hope that the situation will change but every year the ‘alien’ culture continues.

I don’t think that the big breakthrough in research into ageing will occur until researchers take their blinkers off and see older people as a valuable resource in many aspects of life, and abandon their current ‘alien’ attitude. For any researcher who really wants to make their mark the door is ready to be opened.

 

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This is one commodity we do not usually measure in world terms yet perhaps doing so would be useful. The main problem would be how to measure it as one person’s definition might be very different from that of another, even from a similar background.

The question arose for me this week when one of our government ministers who, up until then had seemed to me upright and honest and working in Australia’s best interests, was exposed buying an investment property whilst on a government trip and then getting taxpayers to pay for the trip.

The murky details are still emerging but there are enough so far to show the huge gap between the vast majority of Australians and our politicians. How can the latter make decisions for the good of the country when they constantly distance themselves from most of us? They sit on a pedestal for a short period of time then disappear into obscurity, suggesting that what they had to offer at the time was of limited value.

Is this really how we want our leaders to operate? The current situation seems to be for people with limited talent to wriggle themselves into a situation in which they can exercise a bit of power for a while, improve their own financial situation, then wriggle back down again. Their personal new level of financial comfort satisfies them that they did ok.

Is this why we don’t seem to have a political party dedicated to achieving a country which is equitable for more and allowing everyone a chance to succeed? We had the sad spectacle at Xmas of seeing the PM serving meals, provided, prepared and paid for by others, to needy people. What a better world we could all look forward to if instead he had sat down with these people and talked to them about what it would take to make their lives more productive and liveable. That would really have meant Xmas.

We need a new category of politician for whom success should be measured more in terms of what they can do to for all citizens, helping them to achieve to the best of each individuals ability, not by the number of new assets each can purchase. We are an impoverished country if that is how our politicians measure their success.

We need to create a political party which has its sights set on Australia’s achievements, giving every citizen the opportunity to achieve, particularly the younger ones. We don’t need political parties in which members are engaged in self aggrandisement and self-enrichment. We need honesty in politicians.

 

 

 

I have just returned from a trip to India and was absolutely appalled at the sexism I encountered. What surprised me in particular was the fact that I was staying in top ranked hotels so that the people I was meeting were India’s business and executive people. I have been fighting ageism for so long I guess I thought we were well on the way to eliminating sexism but apparently not in some countries.
I realised that at one stage during my trip I had gone for 6 days without meeting with, and having a conversation with, another woman. Quite a few of the hotels didn’t seem to employ female staff. Even the tour company I was travelling with apparently had a couple of female employees but I only had male guides and drivers. Worse still they often sat in the front of the car chattering to themselves and ignoring me in the back which I thought was particularly rude considering I was paying for their services!
There is absolutely no sense in this highly competitive age in trying to run a business or country using only half of the population’s talents and ideas. No country can hope to compete based on such a policy.
India’s record of frequent rape and murder of women was suddenly explained when I realised the extent to which the country devalues this half of its population.
The country faces really difficult problems in its poverty which means that so many of its citizens are unable to contribute to its wealth and well-being. In addition it has a huge land mass with often difficult terrain making progress in these areas hard to achieve.
What makes the present attitude so difficult to accept is that I was living in the world of business and other leaders. Anyone who believes that women are not as intelligent and capable as men is pretty thick themselves and therefore not very capable. These are the top business leaders and other decision makers. India has to catch up with the rest of the developed world by realising that its wealth and prosperity lies with all its people, with their ideas and intelligence.
Towards the end of my trip I realised that I was beginning to accept the philosophy of those around me. When I saw a man coming anything like my direction I found myself automatically stepping out of the way. Time to get out!

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.

I’m sure people who are involved in a major project lasting several years, whether it be a Ph D as I did, or designing a new product, or discovering something new, must experience the same feeling of flatness when it comes to an end. Where to next? In some cases whatever we were involved in was not just a work project but was always in the background of whatever we were doing, part of our lives. It is very difficult to settle down to something else particularly when rejections head your way.
After a lot of persistence I have finally found a University which will let me take my research a step further next year as a Visiting Fellow. I am not only looking forward to that but the Department I will be in is also involved in a number of other projects investigating other aspects of ageing which makes it even more exciting.
It saddens me that so many younger people, with no real interest in ageing, and no desire to pursue a career in that field do higher degrees in it as a soft option. It belittles the status of ageing as an important and very necessary area in which to pursue research. I suspect that the person I will be involved with next year will listen to my other ideas and let me follow them through. It takes a highly intelligent person, and a lateral thinker, to listen to and recognise the value of the ideas of others.
As a high school teacher for many years I always felt uncomfortable about an education system which tries to produce conformity in its students and clamps down on original thinking. I can’t help thinking that this creates, or encourages, a country which can get rid of a major industry (the car industry) and send its national air line offshore without any hesitation. Is this what our education system is creating, with people unable to find a different solution to its problems? Will the world eventually be ruled by countries which have education systems which encourage different ways of looking at things and creates new ideas? If so will these countries also move forward in recognising the value of human rights and do the two naturally go together?
Meanwhile I think about a friend of mine who was wonderfully creative, and solved a major problem in his lifetime. He retired and just sat at home deteriorating. We need to create a more intelligent society than that. We need to get out the message that creativity opportunities should be available throughout life and we need to create a society that allows for this.
I hope that next year this is where I’ll be allowed to go.

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.

After nearly 8 years (mostly part-time) I have finally completed my thesis for a Ph D in successful ageing and been awarded the degree. Throughout this time I vowed I would never enrol in anything else (it is my 5th degree!) but 4 days later I have enrolled in an on-line course on dementia. My excuse (to myself!) is that it is on dementia which I need to know more about, and only lasts for 11 weeks! I am now asking myself if this is addiction or should it be the norm, particularly as our lives are expanding through increased life expectancy. If I keep on learning, adding new knowledge and a new dimension to previous learning, can I add more to the stock of the world’s knowledge? I’m already planning to get as much of my research as possible published so it can be shared.
Do we have an unacceptable mindset that it is advisable to equip as many of the population as possible with an undergraduate degree, encouraging a few to go further in their chosen field and that’s it? Shouldn’t we be encouraging as many as possible to learn for as long as possible in a variety of different fields? After all, compartmentalising knowledge into different ‘subjects’ is not what it should be about. Knowledge should just be one complete entity. For real progress shouldn’t we be encouraging as many people as possible to be looking at different aspects of knowledge?
I have just been to Korea, mainly to present papers at a world congress on ageing. I had a quick trip around the country afterwards. South Korea has so many obstacles in its path to progress with an extremely mountainous countryside and no natural resources yet it has made spectacular progress, pulling itself up by its boot strings in the last 60 years. They have neither the resources nor the time to compartmentalise knowledge. If there is a problem, and they have had and still have many of them, then they just pull together to solve it.
Coming back to Australia is like stepping back into the last century as we just plod along with much of the rest of the world.
Continuous education shouldn’t be an addiction nor compartmentalised. It should be the norm and varied so we can utilise all aspects of knowledge.

There has been a lot of talk recently in Australia about spending more money on schools which in theory is an excellent idea but in practice has many flaws, particularly in light of current policy. Firstly the money is to come largely from University funding, taking it away from this sector without any thought given to the outcomes of this. As someone pointed out this means enabling more young people to get to University but when they get there the Universities won’t have the money to cope with them.
There are other flaws too. No-one with on the ground experience seems to have really looked at the current flaws in the way schools carry out their business. One of the biggest problems when I was teaching in schools was that as teachers we were required to do more and more of the parenting. I suspect that this is an inevitable consequence of more women being encouraged to resume their careers instead of parenting, particularly single parents who often have no choice. I am all in favour of this but society needs to recognise it and address it. The role of parents in schools needs to move from being thought of by some teachers as an unnecessary evil but rather as a school asset. It needs to be seen as a positive, and defined in more detail, to get the maximum benefit for school, child and parent. Currently we have an education system based on a tripod with a wonky leg.
Another flaw is that if I were to investigate the educational background of the politicians and policy makers I suspect I would find education being defined as being restricted to the first parts of life. I suspect few, if any, would regard lifelong learning as anything other than being experience based after the first couple of decades. Their own University learning would be likely to date back to when they were in their early twenties, often many decades ago. It doesn’t seem to occur to them that this may be somewhat out of date! In other words they are no longer really well-educated themselves.
The other aspect of this debate centres around whether the current biannual testing in schools is worth the huge amount of money it must cost. I am always concerned that a short test may measure little other than how much time the teacher has spent practising it with them. You can’t really measure real learning on relatively short little tests. Just because that is the best we can do in the circumstances doesn’t mean it is worth doing. It could in fact be doing more harm than good, as some people are starting to acknowledge.
This brings me back to the quality of the advisors, political and professional, in terms of their own up to date learning, and the amount of time they themselves actually spend in schools. The fact that we identify some schools as disadvantaged suggests that the policy makers themselves are out of date. This label in itself will be enough to lower the children’s aspirations and standards.
We need to bring our concept of education into the 21st century instead of just re-iterating what we did last century, and making the same mistakes. Is education itself falling behind?

This is a subject that occupies my mind quite a bit as my Ph D continues to drag on. Unfortunately I stumbled across a list of University rankings and found that the one I am studying at does not make the world top 500 on any of the main lists and is even ranked at the bottom of the Australian ones. This week the University has added two more people to their staff who are in no way academics. It used to be a requirement that to be appointed to a University at anything above tutor level you had to have a Ph D. A few years ago this University had less than half of its staff with this qualification, again well down even on an Australian list. Current policy seems intent on lowering even this figure.

Does this matter? I think it does. Our politicians run the country but they largely rely on others to provide the necessary background knowledge. We can easily dismiss the situation by saying that often people with higher qualifications don’t seem very bright and/or the subject of their thesis didn’t really contribute much to human knowledge ( I remember one thesis successfully submitted at one of the top 50 ranked Universities was based on whether two elderly ladies who lived together in Wales over a century ago were lesbians or not! This wasn’t world shattering knowledge!). The point is that research at that depth in any subject produces a really well-trained mind which the world needs although if the subject of the research adds value to world knowledge this is even better. If politicians were obliged to undergo the sort of mental activity involved in higher learning then political debate would be minus a lot of the crap which currently permeates it.

A second problem is that this type of, and level of, learning can’t be a one-off experience. I cringe when I hear politicians professing to support education, and recognise its benefits, as long as they are referring to other people! Many of them sprouting the need for universal access to education, which no-one would disagree with, haven’t undertaken any formal education themselves for decades. Do they think that what they learned in that distant past will last forever? Given the enormous rate of change in the world knowledge bank we need to accept that learning has to be a lifelong experience. Listening to people whose own learning is well out of date spruiking about the need for education for other people makes me wince. We need to realise that the world is constantly changing and our knowledge of it regularly changes and unless we make at least an attempt to keep pace with it we look silly when we open our mouths and sprout rubbish.

In many, if not all, countries of the world ordinary people strive to improve their own education if possible. They are even more adamant that where possible they will fight for their children to have access to learning. In developed countries more and more people strive to go to University not just to get degrees but an increasing number are moving on to higher degrees. If a country is to benefit from this then the quality of the education involved needs to be acceptable. If universities in other countries are also lowering their standards it will be less of a problem in a highly competitive world. If not Australia is in big trouble.

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.