Editorial: ageism and Australia

When my grandmother passed away just over a year ago, one of the things that gave me peace was seeing the love and care she received in her final days, from both family and staff at her residential aged care facility.

Unfortunately, not everyone is shown this kind of dignity and respect as they age.

While interviewing people for research for this edition’s feature article on elder abuse (page 9), a common theme which came up was our problem of ageism in Australia. The 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission Report, Elder Abuse: a national legal response, also names it as a problem. According to the report, Australia’s population is ageing, as we are living longer and having fewer children. In 2014–2015, 15% of our population was aged 65 or over and this is expected to rise to 23% by 2055.

When I attended university several years ago, the WA author and journalist, Liz Byrski was one of my tutors. Liz writes fiction novels and was tutoring my class for a creative writing unit. When she introduced herself to the class at the beginning of the semester, she told us she writes fiction about older women, because women of a certain age become invisible in media. If you google her now you will find that she writes about this topic a lot.

Recently, I binge watched the Grace and Frankie series on Netflix, which is about two older women whose husbands both leave them – for each other. Apart from comedy, the show addresses what it’s like to be an older, single woman – from friends passing away, health deterioration, ageism, dating and sexuality.

I don’t want to give spoilers about how season four ended, but it did leave me feeling a little disturbed. Season five will air in 2019 and I’m hoping it will address some of the ways the women were treated by their adult children.

In Australia, older people are often ignored and in preparing for this article I heard many examples of ageism. I heard that older people often feel invisible, like when an older person is driven to  the doctor by their adult child and the doctor will address the child, as opposed to the older person who needs the doctor’s advice.

As a woman in my mid-thirties, it certainly has given me a lot to think about and I hope it does for you too. Feel free to send us some of your thoughts to revive@wa.uca.org.au.

Heather Dowling

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