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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.


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 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!

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.