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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.

 

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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.

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.

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.

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.