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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.

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I looked forward to finishing my Ph D but it didn’t occur to me what a gap this would create in my life but also that it would give me the opportunity to at last have a choice in my life (after almost 8 years of having my studies as top priority). I am determined to turn my research into a book for older people and so far I’ve had support from quite a lot of them. Against this is my desire to do further research to see if what I found can be applied to people’s lives and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. An article a friend forwarded to me suggests that overseas research indicates that people who stay on in the workforce after the age of 60 reduce their risk of the disease for every year they continue to work. This suggests that I could be on the right track.
The hold up is in finding a suitable University where I can have appropriate support. After messing up the choice of supervisor when I started my Ph D I am now much more cautious in my choice. Meanwhile I start a short course next Monday, on-line from the University of Tasmania which hopefully will better my understanding of the disease (after vowing that when I finished I wouldn’t do another course!). This is only supposed to take about 3 hours a week so it shouldn’t detract from my book writing.
Meanwhile I am also wondering if my interests lie more with sociology than gerontology, an area in which I feel my research has never really been recognised. At the last gerontology conference I attended, the United Nations representative on ageing was also there, a young woman. When I asked how long it would be before an older person had that role and what she and two others in similar positions were doing to empower older people I was met by complete silence. Back to the days of sexism when men represented women as they assumed women were too stupid to speak out for ourselves! Considering how long it is taking to eliminate sexism it is very depressing.

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.

I wonder how far my fight against ageism will progress this year? I assume that even though we have the experience of trying to eliminate sexism and racism behind us we will still have to contend with many of the same problems and a similar time frame will be needed to at least bring attention to ageism and its existence. With all the advances being made in so many high level fields, at grass root level we are still appallingly slow to adapt to new knowledge. One of my important photos is of a suffragette march in London about 100 years ago. You would think that in the years since we would have come to recognise at least the economic value of giving women equality yet in India, and many other countries, they are still regarded as second class citizens. I would like to think the timeline would be shorter for treating older people as equals as our numbers increase but I am not optimistic.

My own contribution to the fight is with 7 and possibly 8 presentations planned and I am also booked in to attend a course on getting a book published run by one of the major publishers. My last attempt at getting published resulted in a reject slip, I know the Harry Potter author had many more than that but I am impatient! I think that my mistake before was to try to reach two very different audiences, academics and older people themselves. These are so different in their needs I should have realised it wouldn’t work. This time I want to concentrate on older people, and then academics later perhaps but it will mean a rewrite for each of the two audiences.

In all of this I realise I am standing on the shoulders of two giants who went before me, Butler and Friedan. They both had much higher profiles than me but they didn’t use, as far as I am aware, the 21st century mass media as I am trying to do. I have now moved slowly into reading eBooks which have advantages and disadvantages. One, the Miranda Hart biography combined both worlds by having a video of herself at the beginning of each chapter. As a comedian this worked really well. The other I bought because the normal print version is not currently available. In theory  there should be no difference between the two types of books but I have found a big disadvantage with the eBook version of the latter. I wanted to go back and check up on something I had read which I could do fairly easily with a print book. With this I was more aware of new chapters and left hand and right hand pages and roughly how far through the book I was when I read it. All this is lost on kindle. Maybe I could incorporate some of the Miranda Hart technique if I try to publish in both types of print.

I start the new year on a positive note and hope that we can move a bit nearer to having us older people accepted as equals so that we believe in ourselves and in what we still have to offer the world. We haven’t been on it for so long without learning a huge amount of knowledge and gaining skills which are still relevant. Maybe we can make 2013 the year in which older people believe in themselves and follow their dreams and the rest of the world accepts that we still have a lot to offer.

Move over youngsters!

My wait to find out if my thesis will be accepted for a Ph D is nearly over. I have now heard back from the two examiners. One is even more supportive than she was last time but the other has retreated and wants me to fail. He isn’t even consistent with what he said last time it was submitted to him. Previously he said that it contained material worth publishing but this time not, even though it is largely the same document.

I think the clue to his thinking is his statement that he describes me as ageist for asserting that research teams do not include older people and I am not acknowledging the age of many researchers (the sentence was grammatically incorrect so it was difficult to understand what he was trying to say). In reading the research there is rarely if ever an acknowledgement of older people being involved (as there should be if they were involved) and certainly in my attendance at conferences I rarely see, or hear the voices of, other older people.

A couple of years ago the British government decided that grants for research into ageing would only be given if older people were involved. It is only a matter of time before we follow the same path here. It obviously would produce better research which is why the UK government has introduced it. The problem is that it places in doubt research done prior to this and therefore the whole careers of researchers in the field. No wonder he is against my Ph D being accepted if he feels threatened by it. As I’ve said before there are so many parallels between the way older people are treated today and the way women were in the past. Women would have had to fight to have their voices heard in the literature on women’s issues, and they weren’t allowed to participate in conferences on the subject. I seem to be following a long line of discrimination.

So it raises the question of the difference getting my Ph D or not will make. I have been given permission by Alzheimer’s to interview their members to see whether my assertion that we need a purpose in all stages of life, including the later stage, could prevent, or delay the progress, of the disease. Research shows that if people with Parkinson’s disease have a purpose in life the progress of the disease is slowed. Will I be allowed to pursue this with Alzheimer’s if I don’t have a Ph D? I don’t know.

My other dream is to write a book on ageing for older people so we understand ourselves better. This will still go ahead but it will be accepted more if it is written by a ‘Dr’. At least by the end of this month the waiting should be over. I just have to wait for a panel to decide. Disappointingly my numerous presentations at International and regional conferences aren’t regarded as an acknowledgement that the academic community accepts my research nor are my recent invitations to address two aged care services communities, indicating that my work is acknowledged by them, accepted as recognition of my work. Academia is a strange place.

As one gets older one’s attitude to life changes. I suspect part of it is that there is a new degree of uncertainty about one’s future. If I didn’t have so many plans for my future I would probably have more of the tolerance and serenity I have always associated with being older!

I was originally told that the examiner’s responses to my thesis would be available by mid-September, time which I set aside for winding down after my 7 year commitment to the research involved. Now the deadline is dragging on apparently endlessly I find the situation more difficult to cope with. If I do get a positive response then the examiners are likely to want changes made which I would want to make immediately and get the whole thing over so I can settle down to the next step in my life. Getting involved in something else I can just drop is difficult.

The first thing I want to do when I am ‘free’ is to research any link between my work and Alzheimer’s disease. If there is then maybe it could help to prevent it or at least reduce its prevalence. It is a horrible disease and is on the increase as the population increases.

I also want to write a book, for older people, about ageing successfully. This week I was talking to an established author who indicated that it was likely to be a best seller, this is the second published author to tell me that. I want to get on with it!

Another dream was to set up a website run by older people for older people. With advice from my son I’ve done this but it is having teething problems. It is called Over65.net but google will only show results for Over65.org so it is almost impossible to reach. Apparently google is so rich and powerful it has no need to care about its individual customers, which seems to be 21st century policy in many parts of the business world. We revere wealth so much as long as the money is rolling in standards are abandoned. I need to see if I can get round the problem. With millions of people over 65 in the US alone, and half of them using the internet, we could be a powerful force and create a much better world if we had that means of communicating with each other.

Meanwhile I need to fill another day!

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.

 

I handed my thesis in at the beginning of February expecting it to be a big relief. Instead it was the start of a new nightmare. Mysupervisor refused to sign it and the next one up the hierarchy took weeks to decide that he didn’t know anything about the subject. Eventually he decided he wouldn’t sign it either and I finally asked the University to submit it on my behalf which they did four months after I first handed it in. They want three examiners and only two had been organised so the third will be sent it later.

This has been a huge learning experience. Had I known anything about Ph D’s when I started I would have insisted on having a panel familiar with my topic- it didn’t occur to me that people without such knowledge would agree to participate. Many of the comments they made about my first draft were entirely inappropriate and made me realise the extent of their lack of knowledge. I couldn’t bear to go through that procedure again which is why I just wanted the University to submit the final version, with the risk of failure.

I have two options from here. If at least two of the examiners give it a pass ranking  then I can go ahead and graduate, possibly after making the usual alterations, and it will all be over. If not, people from a higher ranking university have suggested that I transfer there. It will mean waiting another year to submit but for an older person time is of less consequence. 

Meanwhile I am becoming even more convinced that my research is valuable so I have already started to turn it into a book. Most of the first world countries have ageing populations but the response universally seems to wring their hands and wonder how they will meet the cost and how they will manage with a dwindling workforce. Meanwhile they treat the evergrowing ageing population as useless, just as they used to treat coloured people and women. We need to put ageism in the same trash can as racism and sexism as all three are unproductive. It is easy to argue that a country which does not provide equal opportunities for its female members of the population, for example, is only running on half power. In a few years a quarter of the Australian population will be over 65; if we treat them as useless as we do now we will be losing a quarter of our power, or more, as people who age in this environment will need expensive support.

It is estimated that by 2050 over 1 million Australians will have Alzheimer’s disease, which is expensive for the community and disastrous for the sufferers and their families. Yet most research is concentrated on finding a cure, rather than the cheaper prevention. By treating the main target group for the disease as incompetent and a nuisance, we don’t seem to realise that we are adding to the problem.

My thesis, if it ever gets accepted, will sit on a dusty shelf in a University library. Hopefully my book will reach a wider audience.

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.

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