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Finishing my PhD was more of milestone for me as during the course of it I also gave up work as I had reached the 75 year mark and decided that was enough. What I hadn’t given up was the passion I had for my research into ageing, how it is changing and how we older people need to adjust our lives to cope with it successfully. As a result I have continued with the research on my own and am presenting it at conferences. It changes as I change myself as I age, and become more aware of the ageing process. My current association as a visiting research fellow is disappointing as I have no work place at the university so I don’t meet other researchers, or hear about other people’s research, in the field.
I mentioned in an earlier blog that I went to India earlier this year and I presented 3 research papers there. I am reproducing the abstracts for these here in case anyone reading the blog is involved in similar research.
1.Age friendly cities and communities, through the eyes of an older person
If cities and communities could be planned in advance it would produce much better outcomes than their current ad hoc growth which in many cases has been happening for hundreds of years. City and community growth is largely job driven as countries move to mass production and new industries, such as service industries, which depend on large populations. Such consumer- driven development leads to new problems created by mass transportation and a competitive environment.
The current trend of identifying older people as having specific problems may be unhelpful and isolate the group. Other groups, such as the disabled, have many of the same problems, including those created by reduced mobility. By identifying with the needs of other groups we increase the target clientele and are more likely to achieve appropriate outcomes.
Reduced mobility leads to isolation; a problem also created by disruption of communities through migration, and affects an even greater section of the population in cities.
The present identification of improvement to cities and communities as ‘age-related’ could be detrimental to their very implementation. The nature and funding of changes as being applicable to only one section of the population may unnecessarily detract from implementation. What we should be doing is taking a holistic approach to a particular city, identify its problems, taking into account the needs of all the different groups which are its constituents, and propose solutions on the understanding that future developments will not be adverse to these solutions. Each city and community should identify the needs of its inhabitants, recognise current deficiencies and provide leadership for providers in areas such as recreational facilities, shopping mall owners, transport providers, food, waste disposal, health services and other lifestyle contributors, to work towards this common goal. A more equitable and harmonious and therefore beneficial environment would then be created from the present ad hoc, hotch potch collection of services which are arbitrarily closeted together and referred to as cities and communities.
There is a case to be made for cities to be made user friendly for people of all ages, needs and limitations. Bringing all residents, decision makers and providers into the equation and giving them equal partnership could be beneficial to all and provide an appropriate environment for all inhabitants. If properly documented, future growth would then also be implemented to enhance currently identified aims. Cities would then become environments appropriate to the needs of all residents, including its older ones, most of whom have similar basic needs.
2.The rights of older people, from an older person’s viewpoint
The rights of older people as the right to be safe, to have an active role in society and to do so without discrimination, and other identified rights, tend to be approached more from a restricted legal point of view rather than any attempt to identify what should be the real rights of older people and which should be embedded in a society.
Basically older people should have the right to be to be treated as any other adult member of society, taking into account the often increased frailty which accompanies ageing. This frailty then leads to other rights in terms of provisions for their particular needs and should be part of the rights of all citizens in this category. The current separation of older people from the rest of the community currently tends to reduce our rights.
The idea that ageing causes a decline in the functions of the brain has long since been disproved yet society, at both local and international level, continues to behave as though this is the reality. In fact the opposite is true and the brain can continue to expand and develop with ageing making older people a rich source of experience and knowledge. Society continues to regard its older citizens as mentally reduced and therefore as lesser individuals.
This designation of older people as second class citizens parallels the attitude to women and coloured people decades ago. The three ‘isms’ of sexism, racism and ageism have a lot in common although women and coloured people are further along the path to equality and equal rights than older people.
Accompanying the rights of older people to be treated as any other member of society should be the right to equality and respect, not the condescension that currently accompanies being older and is not legally recognised as a lost right. Without this accepted condescension would the United Nations be permitted to have a young woman as its older people’s representative with no plans to empower older people to take on this role themselves? Would conferences on ageing be run by younger people, with mainly younger people as speakers and also comprising most of the audience, just as conferences on women’s issues were male based 100 years ago?
Older people should have the right to be treated as equals and given the same opportunities and representation. The additional respect which should accompany the special status of ageing should be ours to win.
3. Preventing abuse, from an older person’s perspective
The categories of abuse in terms of physical, emotional, sexual, neglect and spiritual are too restricted to be all-encompassing in recognising and preventing abuse of older people. They include the deficiency of not acknowledging that abuse can either be at the community or individual level with most recognition being directed at abuse of individuals. There seems to be an assumption that abuse will be directed at individuals in the home environment, whether a private home or residential care in its various forms. The fact that most prosecutions occur in these environments tends to reinforce this bias. Abuse in its wider sense and in the wider community goes unrecognised; particularly abuse associated with the designation of older people as second class citizens.
There is no doubt that the areas identified above are areas in which abuse is likely to occur, or at least to be acknowledged and are likely to be particularly hurtful and damaging to the individual. It usually occurs in isolated situations casting doubts in the individual about their own status and abilities in society. One of the most damaging aspects of abuse is that it creates self doubt and feeling of worthlessness in the recipient. This is particularly harmful for older people who may have restricted access to the world outside the abuse. A positive aspect of this type of abuse is that it is recognised by society and law makers and can be legislated against, although this has limited effect if knowledge of what constitutes the offence is unavailable to those at risk.
The unrecognised abuse by society as a whole to its citizens is far more problematic for older people as they are among the ones who experience it and who have little opportunity to voice their concerns, and may even accept it as normal behaviour, as society as a whole does. Decisions about older people, their rights and problems are far too often taken by younger legislators, workers in the field and researchers, usually without input from older people themselves, certainly without any partnership affiliation. Does this imply that older people themselves, the real experts on elder abuse as recipients, are incapable of participating in such a legislative environment? If this is the case then abuse will continue unabated and in itself this attitude is a form of abuse in denying older people their rights to be full participants in the community.
Later this year I will be presenting another paper at the sociologists conference and I will include the abstract for that in a later blog.

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!

Last week I attended the annual conference of the Australian Association of Gerontologists in Hobart. It is now 5 years since I attended one of their conferences and little has changed. Unfortunately ageing study is a growing field and tends to attract mainly less than first class academics, which results in poor quality research. At the first conference I was horrified by the lack of participation by older people. It was like having a conference on women’s issues without women. It would have been acceptable the century before last but not in the 21st century. Unfortunately in ageing research the lack of participation of this group is just accepted.

At a conference 6 months after my original encounter with this organisation I presented a paper on involving older people. I was rudely rubbished by the president-elect at the time and her supporters applauded her comments. Little has changed. Even those who do involve older people in their research (never throughout the project) use such small numbers that their work has little application beyond their project. One of the main speakers at the conference commented on involving older people (marginally) as though it was a new idea.

For real participation, and high quality research, older people should be involved in formulating the research question, writing the research tool (such as a questionnaire), analysing the results and writing up the report. Where older people are not trained for this such training should be provided. Not only would it produce better research results but it would prevent researchers making fools of themselves through comments which show a lack of understanding of the issues involved with ageing.

I attended the conference dinner, which I usually avoid, as I did 5 years ago. Again little had changed. The so-called ‘music’ was too loud for conversation so we were left to watch somewhat inebriated academics doing what they called ‘dancing’, which seemed to involve waving various bits of their bodies around. The person from South Korea I was sitting next to managed to say, in a moment of quiet, that they would be ashamed of their behaviour next day, until I pointed out that the alcohol was flowing so freely they wouldn’t remember. I would have loved to have talked with those with international experience around me but it was far too noisy.

This is the life of those involved in research into ageing. Frankly I believe that older people deserve better than this. If the ageing population is a problem then it is mainly because our voices are not being heard and those researching these problems are not setting high enough standards for themselves. It is sad that their’s are the voices being listened to, and getting the grant money, while the elderly can’t afford to attend such conferences and be heard.

My thesis is still with the examiners so while I wait I am turning my research into a readable book which allows me to move away from the stilted language of academia. This is less urgent and has no deadline so it is giving me time to pursue other things.

I was telling  a friend  that older people needed assistance with the physical aspect of ageing and going to a gym was not often our scene for a number of reasons. The next time I saw her I was given an invitation to attend a training course for community representatives on committees dealing with health issues.

Most of the staff employed in this project have disabilities, as did many of those who attended the training. What surprised me was the wonderful atmosphere. No sign of the competition that I now realise seems to permeate the world. Instead the atmosphere was wonderfully friendly and supportive and people could say what they felt without censure, and that all opinions were valid. It made me realise how much input we miss out on because people are concerned about being ridiculed or dismissed in the competitive atmosphere in which we usually run things.

As a result of this course I was invited to take part in a discussion about what I had previously heard called ‘living wills’. These are the instructions you leave, usually with a family member, in case you are not able to give them yourself, regarding resuscitation, blood transfusions etc. These are particularly important for older people. Do we want to just be left to leave this world in peace or do we want the hassle of drips and forced feeding etc.

The paper we were given to look out is the outcome of different health organisations across the country trying to achieve uniformity in language and format so that our instructions will be followed wherever we are in the country. Currently they only apply in the State or Territory where they are written and they are not available in some places. I hope that the final draft will incorporate community language that everyone can understand. The current document is written in what I call legalese and reflects the areas most of the committee members come from. It is good that it is being addressed at a national level but will be wasted if the community can’t understand it and are therefore reluctant to use it.

What surprised me was that when I mentioned that people would have different needs at different times in their lives the committee representative commented ‘That’s a good idea. I’ll make a note of it’. I would have thought it obvious that when your children are young you would want every effort made to keep you alive whereas when you are towards the end of your life you would just like to go peacefully.

I also came across a document outlining a local road safety strategy for the next couple of years. In thinking about my response I couldn’t help realising that the current dictatorial  (and revenue raising) approach is not a good way to deal with an issue which puts people’s lives at risk. I assume this is due to it being largely under police control and they have never fully endorsed public involvement and cooperation in their work. I believe that a partnership approach to road use and control would be at least worth a try given the number of road deaths and injuries.

An example of this is the announced installation of close traffic speed cameras on a road near where I live, to detect people speeding between them. As soon as they were announced there was a cry of ‘revenue raising’. I travel frequently along this road and rarely see an accident. If it is a high accident area then the police should issue the figures to prove it. Otherwise it is just another ‘us against them’ way of policing, rather than a cooperative way of approaching the problem.

Western countries believe in a democratic system but we are very select in the way they apply it. They don’t realise that cooperation actually results in more influence.

As I get older I am more inclined to question how and why things are done, rather than just accept them. I guess I am inclined to put them in perspective.

The Victorian branch of the Council of the Ageing was co-sponsor of this event and had many members helping acting as volunteers so at least there were some older people in attendance. Most of the speakers, as expected, were ‘younger’ people. My presentation on Lifestyle Choices for Successful and Healthy Ageing gained some very positive comments.

I mentioned to the International Federation of Ageing organisers that it was inappropriate that there was no discount for the ageing at the conference. Most people attending would have been paid for by their employers at a cost of nearly $1000, plus travel and accommodation, would have been well out of reach of the majority of older people. Apparently this hadn’t occurred to them. It is high time that such conferences try to attract as many older people as possible for accuracy and validity in their aims. The IFA doesn’t even offer membership reductions for older people.

Apart from these limitations, the conference was very enjoyable and there was quite a lot of valuable and relevant knowledge, but it would have been more valuable if it had been authenticated by having many more older people there.

I tried to attend talks on the ‘fringe dwellers’ such as the homeless. One charitable organisation realised that there was commonwealth government finance available to provide accommodation for homeless older people and as a result their work has been much more succesful. In particular they designed accommodation taking into account the needs of their clients.

The conference was followed by a one day conference on age-friendly cities which Canberra is aiming to become. One of the advantages of this is that it makes life easier for older people as well other age groups! It helps to bring humanity back into our cities. There was idea sharing from various countries.

One of the most inspiring groups I met were a group of aboriginal women whose work I will include in a separate blog.

This year has been a busy one, although without any overseas conferences. In March I was sponsored to attend a Masterclass for
students doing research into ageing, in Brisbane. This proved to be an interesting experience. It reinforced my impression that most research is being done by young researchers whose knowledge of ageing comes from what they read in books- which are written by other younger researchers. To me this is a dangerous situation, and is a barrier to first class research.

Later in the year I attended a conference in Sydney on employing older workers. There were many employers represented- but no older workers! I subsequently used part of my research data to submit a paper on employing older workers to a conference on employment in Newcastle in early December. This published, refereed paper should be available on the Centre of Full Employment
and Equity website or email coffee@newcastle.edu.au”>coffee@newcastle.edu.au</A>.

I also presented a paper on how the role of general practitioners in the ACT will change with an ageing population, at a conference on health in the ACT. I followed this with a presentation on Successful Ageing at the ANU Intergenerational Forum in October.

The more research I do the more I am convinced that ageing is much more successful if it is part of a seamless life span. The pension was a wonderful financial help to those near the end of their lives, when it was introduced. Today, with increasing life expectancy, it has tended to become a right to a carefree, paid, decades-long existence which appears to be far from a physically or mentally healthy way to live. There are plenty of examples in the world of older people who continue on with their work, or change to new careers, and live healthy, productive, satisfying lives. Research in Manchester in the UK suggests that in 40 years, the number of people with dementia in Australia will treble,
yet we don’t really know either the cause or cure for this frightening, and expensive, disease. I suspect that filling in time until death, as so many do, is not a healthy way to age. Those who continue to contribute to society seem tobe much better off.

This is a paper based on a powerpoint presentation I gave at the the 2007 National Conference of the Older Women’s Network (Australia). It was held at the Australian National University, in November 2007. For my comments on the conference itself, see this earlier post.

Summary:
Older women tend to have a positive attitude towards life, are very active in the community and make a very positive contribution to society. The negative attitude towards us is entirely unwarranted. It is up to us to be vocal in telling the rest of Australia the way it really is.
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