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There are two aspects of volunteering which we tend to accept. Firstly in economic terms because there is no money value attached, since the word itself implies the word ‘free’, and secondly the outcomes of the efforts of volunteers often can’t be valued and therefore are often just accepted.
This problem particularly affects older people. Because we are not seen to be producing an income we are not regarded as valued members of the community and are therefore regarded as bludgers on the economy by some. I suspect that many who feel this way are not aware of having this attitude, much as people who are racist are often not aware of it. As an older person I am aware that it exists, particularly when out shopping. So many younger people expect me to move out of their way, not necessarily because they feel that as an older person, and therefore unlikely to be contributing to the economy, but I don’t count because they see no reason to value me. They forget that one day they will be old themselves and therefore subject to this behaviour!
This attitude extends to most volunteers of any age group. Unless their work is specifically brought to our attention, such as through wearing a special uniform as in some hospitals, we may not be aware that it is being done out of the goodness of people’s hearts.
What we forget is that a monetary value could be put on what is done in many cases but because it is often just accepted, and is nothing new, people don’t think of it. A group I belong to has many volunteers but doesn’t normally put a monetary value on what we do. As it has now applied to be a registered charity I suggested we would attract more donations if we did include it in our brochure and would then be able to expand our work. For a reason like this I suspect many of us would be willing to count up our hours. For other voluntary work, such as babysitting, which is a frequent unpaid occupation for many older people, I suspect many would feel that this is too precious to be given a monitory value and to do so would devalue it.
The other side of the coin is that it means that the rest of the citizens never have a figure in terms of, in many cases, billions of dollars contributed to the economy by these people, including those they push out of the way in shopping centres.
If we added up in monetary terms the value of all the voluntary work done even in just one country I suspect we would change the attitude of its citizens to each other in a very positive way. We shouldn’t need to push those who are more frail out of the way and people who do this would feel much better about themselves if they didn’t.


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.


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.




This was held in Brisbane, Australia, last week and seemed to attract a lot of participants but I was again disappointed that this bi-annual event didn’t attract more older people. As I’ve mentioned before, 100 years ago there were conferences on women’s issues, run by men, with male speakers and male audiences with a few token women in the audience. Such conferences would be laughed at today and not taken seriously. Why can’t people who organise conferences on ageing see the parallels and learn from them? I’d like to think that this won’t be too far into the future but I haven’t noticed any change so far. I did point out in the conference opening session that I was tired of reading research that was inaccurate because older people hadn’t been involved. The guest speaker made the point that in a recent policy document put out by his organisation they had recommended this. I’m not holding my breath for a world-wide recognition of the value of older people, although I’d be surprised if we have to wait until the next century for it to become the norm.

It concerns me that when people retire at 65, usually because they are bored with their jobs, or feel that their talents are not recognised, or if they are forced into retirement, then a growing number of them are likely to live for another 40 years and filling this time becomes a problem. They lose their self-respect, and suicide, particularly among men, becomes an issue. This is likely to affect more women in future as it becomes more accepted that they too are likely to have careers before retirement.

As Australia heads towards an election both major parties are worried about national debt and neither feel that we are likely to get on top of it for many years. This leads me to question why we don’t take steps to utilise the talents, skill, knowledge and experience older people have. One of the highlights of the IFA conference to me was the presentation by Peter Balan which suggested support be given to build an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem to encourage senior entrepreneurship. The assumption by politicians that only young people have ideas is a sad reflection on the intelligence of those in power. With all our experience and knowledge obviously there are plenty of older people who have entrepreneurial ideas. Why then does the rest of society, particularly politicians and researchers, resign us to a dependency role, and then complain about the cost of providing for us? A better alternative would be to encourage, and promote, entrepreneurship for all those, of all ages, with ideas.

Australia, and many other countries, at least have some idea of the human approach. On the last day of the conference I met a couple of women from Sri Lanka and Jamaica. Knowing that they would have a shorter life span than in developed countries, I asked what their pension age was. They both said 60 but one pointed out that only public servants qualified for a pension. The rest have to rely on their families, or go begging on the streets.

The world has a long way to go before it realises the value of its senior citizens.


Sometimes I despair of this happening, particularly in developing countries where many of them are still a long way from achieving equality for women. How can any country think it can lift itself out of poverty if it ignores the qualities and talents of half of its population? The same of course applies to a country’s attitude to its older people. Any country which talks about an ageing population ‘problem’ is missing out on the talents and abilities of its older cohort. One day we will talk about our ageing population ‘bonus’ and we will be well on the way to a much more prosperous country, and a more prosperous world.

In the midst of this gloom occasionally a beam of light appears. This happened to me recently. In one of the nearby country towns an aged acre provider had the brilliant idea of having a ‘Grey in May’ celebration of ageing. The idea seems to be to not only include the residents of its own already quite large complex (it has facilities for independent living, nursing care and intensive care) but also the rest of the town. The month long festival includes a village walk, a community BBQ, an Art Show, a morning tea for its large number of volunteer helpers and a luncheon for the whole town. Wow! May there be many more organisations involved in aged care who take a similar positive approach. We hear a lot about older people having problems as they get older, particularly physical problems as our bodies deteriorate, but how much easier they become if we live in an environment as positive as this, where older people are celebrated. Well done to Mark Sewell and his staff at Warrigal.

I have received this link to their website I wonder how many people watching it are aware that these are aged residents in an aged care facility? This is such an enlightened approach to aged care and I would like to think is a light leading the way forward for other aged care providers. Believing in older people and believing that we have a lot to offer shouldn’t be such a huge step, particularly with such a wonderful example to follow. Next year the International Federation of Ageing is focussing on Age Friendly Cities at its international conference in Brisbane, Australia. I always have problems with this concept as I think they should be friendly to all age groups, many of which have similar needs. The month long celebration of ageing discussed above certainly creates a more age friendly environment and I hope helps all the older people in this town to walk with their heads held high long after May is over. If the older people are happier then the rest of the town will be and will benefit from it.

There is hope ahead!

I am sure that I am not the only person in Australia who is concerned about what seems to be a continuing debate concerning our higher education system, a debate which I feel is based on all the wrong, and inaccurate, assumptions.

I believe very strongly that the first priority in any country should be its education system, from Kindergarten to Ph. D. students. I believe that this should top all other demands on a country’s resources, followed closely by health, although the two are intertwined. The current debate centres on higher education, who can access it and how much it is going to cost them as individuals. The politicians seem to feel that there is no problem with expecting graduate students to enter the workforce with a huge debt if Universities, and the fees they can charge, are deregulated. It doesn’t seem to enter the heads of politicians that deterring bright and competent students from embarking on a degree because they feel they can do better in life without that huge debt is a problem in terms of  a lost resource. They confidently say that they will back students from a low sociological background by providing scholarships for them but we have not been given any details of this. The government should have details about how many students which fit this descriptor are currently in the system and how much it would cost to provide them all with scholarships. This is a very necessary part of the argument and it is interesting that this doesn’t seem to have been costed or such a detail publicised.

The other side of the issue, the motives of the Universities, is also a murky area. They seem to feel that deregulation would attract better staff and better research but again this argument does not appear to be substantiated. We would need to know what does attract good quality staff. It is hard to believe that they are entirely motivated by money. I would have thought that the research environment, quality colleagues and quality management would also appear in the equation. I need convincing that top research staff are only attracted and motivated by money. I wonder if quality Vice-Chancellors attract their own staff followers who primarily require a positive environment in which to pursue their goals .

With 5 degrees under my belt, both from overseas and Australia, my impression is that standards are deteriorating  because Universities, at least in Australia, are failing to attract top staff because of an amateur working and research environment, and inadequate management. Being able to offer staff more money in this situation is unlikely to attract quality staff.

The Minister himself seems to have had minimum personal contact with Universities, with only an undergraduate degree and post-graduate diploma, nearly a quarter of a century ago. Most of his working life has been spent in the peculiar and limited atmosphere of politics. This hardly makes him an expert on our Universities.

Optimum economic growth with all its benefits, professionally distributed, is the key to a country’s success. This can only be achieved if the potential of all its people can be liberated. It also involves talented and knowledgeable leadership. That seems to be what is currently missing.

My request to have my Visiting Fellowship at the local university renewed was refused so I am currently out in limbo as far as affiliation goes. I am left wondering how important this is.

Last year I presented 3 papers at an international conference in India, all of which were well received. I would have thought that this alone would be good publicity for the University, where it counts, as I was the only speaker from the University at the conference. I also had 4 abstracts accepted for a conference in Dublin but as they were only accepted as posters I withdrew. People attending conferences are usually too busy listening to speakers, or networking in meal breaks to wander around reading and looking at posters. Two abstracts I submitted for a regional conference were accepted and I have been asked to combine them for a plenary presentation.

This year I have submitted 1 abstract for an international conference in Thailand and will submit 2 or 3 for a national conference. It is going to be interesting to see to what extent my current lack of affiliation affects acceptance rates. I suspect that even conferences where abstracts are viewed ‘blind’ include affiliation, but not qualifications, which I find a strange situation. No doubt I’ll find out when we are notified of acceptances.

I am still concerned at what happens to academics and other senior people who retire and sever communication with their former workplace. Occasionally those in the public eye will be called back to head a panel reviewing a particular issue but what happens to the rest and what happens to these people when this project finishes? Are their brains supposed to just shut down for the rest of the time they are on this planet?

In my case keeping my research in the public eye has never been a problem. I have always intended to publish my research in book form so that it can reach a combined audience of older people and, hopefully, those involved with this group, either as academics or providers. Now that I have lost my affiliation I think that the papers I intended to publish in academic circles will also have to follow this book publication route which is probably a plus as it will also be more widely available. The major problem is finding a publisher but this is not a new situation. Harry Potter was rejected many times before being accepted, and then only for a minimum run. Beatrix Potter had to initially self publish before Peter Rabbit went to commercial publication. She had the extra complication of being a female author at a time when it was a field which was off-limits to women.

Meanwhile is the academic world content with the current graveyard approach to those who were formerly making a huge contribution to the world’s knowledge base but no longer appear to have a role? This seems to be a huge waste.

Do we need to persuade Universities to develop a program for retired academics? Given the huge amount of time, effort and resources put into research by both people and universities the question of retirement probably needs to be addressed in this particular field. Do we just let this knowledge stream dry up or do we actively address the issue? There is probably a multitude of responses to the question of what people want as they find they are no longer able to cope with full time work. My own feeling is that as people get older they don’t want to opt out of work completely unless they absolutely hate what they are doing. This also applies to researchers, with the amount of work depending on their energy levels and their fitness. This applies to all older people and there are currently moves for employers in other fields to provide appropriate sessional employment either based on a reduction in  daily hours or in the number of days worked per week. I argue that Universities should also enable a similar path.

Academic retirement is slightly different from retirement in other areas. Research tends to be based on interest in a particular field, the opportunity to pursue it and energy levels- if you don’t feel like pursuing an interest one day it can wait until tomorrow. The big issue is access to facilities. Access to research laboratories is probably a case by case situation but library access is a different situation.

This question has arisen for me as I have now lost my University affiliation. All I needed was access to the University library so that I could peruse journals to see which most reflected my research investigations. Some Universities grant 2 year appointments but the one I was connected to only gave 1 year appointments which wasn’t enough time to do any real research. It seemed to me that granting access to the University library was a fair exchange for representation of the University at conferences and in publications. My understanding is that University listings are based on research which this involvement represented.

So where to from here? The scrapheap? My research won’t stop that’s for sure. As with many researchers it is my life. Maybe  University financing should be based on the volume of their research rather than on student numbers which is currently the default situation. We live in a highly competitive world in which the more successful countries are the ones which lead the field in development and innovation. Isn’t it time we put this in to words and action with Universities recognising their essential role in this, including with their older researchers? 

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 major weakness of the research in my thesis was that it was confined to people living in the community and did not include people living in retirement villages and residential care. This was necessary because it would have been impossible if I had extended it further, particularly as I suspect that data on these is probably unavailable. It didn’t stop me wondering if what I had found (that we all need a purpose in our lives throughout life) also applied to this group who were no longer living in the community.
One of the problems with this is finding your purpose. One of my sources, Secrets of Becoming a Late Bloomer (Goldman and Mahler, 1995), whilst showing a wide variety of purposes these late bloomers had found, only referred to individual purposes. I was interested to know if community organisations such as churches could provide a purpose, particularly as I felt this would fit in with the Christian exhortation to love their neighbour. (I had been brought up in this church but left in disgust at what I saw was their hypocrisy; saying one thing and doing another).
I contacted a minister I had met who is not only willing to talk to me about it but also passed me on to one of his colleagues who runs a residential aged care village. It looks as though I will be able to plug two holes in my research. Thank goodness I am retired and can follow both these leads. I just hope I have enough time left in my life.
I was reminded the other day of this aspect of ageing when I was asked to sign a petition to allow us to leave this world when we no longer find our lives reach an acceptable standard. I have always felt that just as we have no right to kill another human being (countries who allow this don’t appear to have reached an acceptable level of maturity) I don’t think anyone should have the right to force me to live. Maybe if medicine can reach the stage where it can alleviate all suffering I might change my mind.
I also feel that ‘living wills’ which determine what resuscitation we choose to have should be universal and universally respected so that we have some say in what happens to us even if we are not conscious.
There is so much to be done in this world. I wish people weren’t so concerned with their egos and building their empires, both financially and in terms of territory. Having other people’s respect (and love) are the most important assets we can have in life. Having a purpose which improves the life of others is likely to fulfil these.