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.

The other day I was talking to a friend who regularly takes her 85 year old father to medical appointments. She says some of the medics are OK but others just ignore her father and talk to her and she has to politely point out to them that her father is actually the patient and he is perfectly capable of speaking for himself.
Once again this week we have been reminded in the news of how many older people there are in Australia and how many more there will be in the future. This information is provided merely on a cost basis (in this instance how much our pensions will cost) with no indication that we are anything but a burden on the community or the positive ramifications of our numbers. We are actually a huge industry with many opportunities both in marketing terms and in specialised industries including the health industry. There are enough of us now to warrant a Department of Ageing Health as I mentioned last time. If we don’t recognise the situation intelligently costs go up.
I wonder how the medics who engage in the behaviour above would feel if they were treated like this? I wonder if they realise that it makes us feel useless and worthless. Engendering such feelings in their patients can only add to our health problems and therefore health costs. Depression among older people is a major problem which situations like this only contribute to. I remember reading a comment by an older person about her doctor, she reckoned he was OK but he had a deathbed manner! With a feisty reaction like this using a deathbed approach towards her was entirely inappropriate.
Some branches of medicine, such as psychologists, do include training in this field for people entering the profession but even in branches of health where this is provided I suspect it isn’t available as supplementary training for those who have been in the profession for a while. Many people currently practising medicine would have entered the profession before the relatively sudden increase in the number of older people was recognised. They would have had no training in this quite different branch of their profession.
The present situation outlined above causes anguish amongst older people and isn’t the most efficient way to provide medical care for this growing part of the population. It adds to cost.
I also heard about workers in a particular group of residential care facilities being reminded in their induction that they must always treat the residents with respect because after all this is their home. I wish I could feel that this was the instruction given to all staff working in aged care facilities, particularly those who work amongst the frail.
If we don’t recognise older people as the same as the rest of the community but older and perhaps a bit more frail we older people are given the impression that we are useless and add to the costs of helping us.

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.

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.

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 have just reread a post I wrote in January trying to predict where I would be going this year. I have finally reached one milestone. The University have decided that they will award me a PhD. at the end of this month. It ends almost 8 years of study through a very rocky road. I started out with a supervisor who didn’t tell me she didn’t know anything about my topic and wasn’t really interested. Finally I was able to transfer to a panel who were not only knowledgeable but who were also anxious for me to succeed. The only remaining problem to having my research recognised is/was the fact that the majority of researchers in the field of gerontology are younger people who have come into it because they don’t have much competition and they aren’t really interested to the extent that they don’t use the real experts in the field, older people themselves, in their research. If you question this, look at the introductions to their work. They don’t give the impression that older people have been involved.  As an older person myself I often read their work with indignation knowing that they are frequently getting it wrong.

My research really took off when the aged care service providers discovered me and my research and liked what they found. I have far more support from them at conferences and what impresses me is that they listen to what I have to say and then try to apply it to what they are doing in their work. An example of this is an invitation to write an article for their national magazine in a section which invites controversy! The only comment was that I was being a bit too polite!

Next week I will be in Seoul for the World Congress on Gerontology and Geriatrics. The latter group are usually a bit more open minded as long as they aren’t too technical so that non-medical people can understand them. I am presenting 1 oral paper and 3 posters. The latter have been an interesting exercise. There are likely to be a large number of posters so I am trying to be controversial with my layout and background colour. More commercial than academic but still conveying my research I hope.

At two previous conferences I have been physically shoved out of the way by other participants. After all I am an older person and that is the way we are treated. I just don’t expect it amongst academics and professionals.

Hopefully it will be a good conference and I will learn a lot. With people coming from all over the world, including Russia and Iran, it has the potential to be really good and help move the field of ageing towards where it should be.

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?