Call to recognise economic contribution of seniors

Professor Henry Brodaty at Tuesday’s RightsTalk. Photo: Australian Human Rights Commission.

A leading researcher on ageing and dementia has called for better recognition of the contribution that older Australians make to society and more opportunities for intergenerational collaboration to help combat ageism.

In a talk to the Australian Human Rights Commission on Tuesday, Professor Henry Brodaty, co-director of the Centre for Healthy Brain Ageing at the University of New South Wales, said the positive contribution of older people to society often remained invisible.

The internationally recognised researcher also called for a rethink on Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of Australia’s economic health because it failed to capture the positive impact of population ageing on the national economy. He said as a metric, GDP was ageist because it excluded the value of volunteering and household-provided care and services, of which older Australians were big contributors.

“The common stereotype is that older people are decrepit, they are not functional, they are a drain on our society and they go into nursing homes but the facts are actually quite different,” he told the Sydney audience.

He said the overwhelming majority of older people lived in private dwellings in the community and a significant number of people over 65 were still in paid employment.

“Older Australians are active contributors. Almost half of 65-74-year-olds provide unpaid assistance to someone outside the house. One third are volunteering through organisations, two-thirds are in social or support groups, and one quarter, despite having relatively low incomes, are financially supporting somebody outside their house either a child or a younger relative.”

Older people were contributing “big time to our society,” he said.

Intergenerational connections

Professor Brodaty said Australia also needed to replace the idea of an intergenerational competition for resources with “cross-generational” resource allocation and greater opportunities for collaboration. He pointed to intergenerational education and community programs that supported a more integrated society as key examples.

Professor Brodaty has visited one of the world’s first intergenerational schools in Cleveland, Ohio, which has purposefully included older adults into the design of the school’s teaching and learning model to promote the sharing of skills and knowledge between generations. Other innovative programs have connected aged care residents with local preschools for mutual benefit.

Intergenerational competition for resources such as healthcare and jobs was also a false dichotomy and investments were required at both ends of the life spectrum, he said. “We need cross-generation resources to advance the welfare of all of us.”

Turning to the attitudes of the medical profession, Professor Brodaty said ageist views in the health system also should be stamped out, especially in the area of mental health where depression can be seen as a natural part of ageing.

He said older people were not a burden on health resources but “core business for health” and the health system could become more efficient by eliminating waste such as unnecessary treatments.

Many at the forum also expressed deep concern over recent media reports that the ABC was looking to cut back on TV and radio programs aimed at older viewers and called for lobbying efforts to begin to prevent a change to programming.

Older workers

Elsewhere this week the Australian Human Rights Commission launched a new video awareness campaign aimed at highlighting the value of older workers. ‘The power of oldness” campaign was launched by Age Discrimination Commissioner Susan Ryan and Minister for Employment Senator Eric Abetz on Monday to address age discrimination in the workplace.

Date Published: 
Friday, 22 August 2014
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