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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.

 

For the past year, since retiring and graduating, I have been a Fellow at one of our local Universities. The promises made, such as being involved in at least 2 pieces of their research into ageing (my field), and involvement in a developing aged care facility, didn’t materialise. All I was left with was access to the University library so that I could look up journals with a view to publishing some of my research. I spent the first half of the year putting my research into book form and submitting it to publishers, so far unsuccessfully. Sometimes this can be a good sign. Harry Potter is notorious not only for being a best seller but for the number of rejections it had first! Consequently I have only just approached the subject of getting published professionally. I have also presented papers at conferences, including 3 such presentations at an International conference in India which were well received and supported. I would have thought that promotional activities like this for the University should have more than outweighed the cost of providing me with a library card!
Are Universities in Australia so concerned with the bottom line financially that they have lost the sight of their purpose, which should be to promote knowledge and further it? This should be their first and last objective. Instead of that they seem to be almost entirely consumed with costs and how to retrieve them. The University described above has embraced one of the local male sports teams to bring attention to itself! Knowledge and research no longer seem to be important. As one who got my first degree, and has been involved in some form with Universities, both in Australia and overseas, for over 50 years I am far from impressed.
The world exists, and can only flourish, on knowledge. Part of that knowledge is involvement with physical activities but there are plenty of expert areas which can take care of that, not Universities which seem to be prepared to sacrifice knowledge and learning in more mainstream academic areas to be involved.
I did apply for a similar position as Fellow at one of our more respected Universities. They didn’t even do me the courtesy of responding.
So where does that leave me and my research? One major provider of ageing health care, with a number of sites, has already adopted my research as part of its philosophy so it is already being effective. I will continue with my research and hope to promote it, both through presentations at national and international conferences, and I will start publishing professionally as an individual.
Aged health and lifestyle should be more about keeping the target group fit and healthy and contributing to society, rather than how we can manage increasing costs in this field, particularly when ignoring research findings are adding to these costs. Universities should be about more than just assisting a local male football team to have a successful season.