(Australian Associated Press)
Age ain’t nothing but a number to most Australians who believe attitude and behaviour more than the candles on a cake determine if a person is old or not, according to a report.
Wrinkly, frail and cranky but also wise and kind were some of the key descriptions of the elderly which emerged when 35 focus groups were questioned from July to September 2019.
Market researchers Ipsos also conducted in-depth interviews with 30 individuals as part of their report into community attitudes towards ageing for the Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety.
They found a mix of positive and negative stereotypes were attached to older Australians including concerns regarding loneliness, deteriorating mental and physical health, financial stress and the loss of independence.
At the same time there was a strong belief that with old age came certain freedoms including to relax, travel and take up new hobbies but also in self-expression as people feel less constrained by social norms.
But most people struggled to put an exact age on when a person became ‘old’, despite agreeing that certain milestones such as accessing superannuation or being eligible for the aged pension marked someone as an ‘older person’.
“It’s a state of mind though isn’t it?,” a Queensland focus-group member said.
“My mum’s 94 now and a couple of years ago … there was an advert on TV with an elderly woman aged 65 and she said, ‘Poor thing’, then realised she was 20 years older.”
Some people said the perception of old had changed with longer life expectancy and shifting social values.
Older people were more likely to be more strongly opinionated, according to people aged 30 and under, but also less adaptable and open to change, both social and technological.
Some older people agreed, saying they felt left behind by the constant changes, while others were irritated by the stereotype.
People aged 55 and over said they disliked being perceived as frail or losing their faculties and said they felt others, particularly employers, looked at them and only saw a number and not their skills or ability.
It was a fear shared by all age groups who said growing older meant becoming invisible.
Older Australians felt less valued and many people compared their experience to the perceived care and respect held by some Asian cultures towards their elderly.
Most people agreed intergenerational support and a sense of responsibility towards family was a model “western cultures” could aspire towards.
Similar views are also held by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, the report noted, however the general population appeared ignorant of this practice.
Universally, all groups agreed the contributions of older people were invaluable, from their role as grandparents and babysitters to generational battles fought for human rights.
Many young people said what they treasured most was their love and support.
“They have so much to give. Very empowering,” a LGBTQ group from Western Australia said.
You can never lose weight around old people, ‘Oh, you’re so thin, you’ve got to eat more’.”