Rewriting the rulebook on aging

Two older women facing the camera and smiling.
Maggie Beer and Polly Sumner Dodd at COTA SA event to celebrate the UN International Day of Older Persons
Ageism is the inability or refusal to recognise the rights, needs, contributions and value of people in our community based on their age. It impacts people of all ages, but is particularly experienced by older people and it is endemic in our society. 

Ageism is often unwitting and subconscious and according to the Australian Human Rights Commission, it is the most accepted form of discriminatory prejudice, with evidence suggesting that it is more pervasive and socially acceptable than sexism or racism.

One in three (37%) Australians aged 50+ have experienced some form of ageism and it is profoundly harmful.  At a personal level, discrimination includes being turned down for a job or overlooked for a promotion, being ignored or treated rudely, and being the subject of disparaging jokes based on age.

But it doesn’t end there! Ageism is also the prerequisite and enabler of elder abuse, it prematurely ends careers, overlooks low standards in aged care, threatens equitable access to health services and is a direct contributor to isolation and loneliness.    

COTA (Council on the Ageing) SA is an older people’s movement run by, for and with older people who represent the rights, interests, and futures of almost 700,000 older South Australians.

Undertaking multiple events, forums and surveys each year, COTA SA seeks to understand the views, life experiences and needs of those aged 50+, and is on a mission to actively combat all forms of ageism.  

On 30 September, COTA SA held an event at U City in Adelaide to celebrate the UN International Day of Older Persons (1 October), a day that was created in 1990 to not only celebrate the important contributions that older people make in the community but also to highlight the issues faced with growing older.

“Together, we must reject the stereotypes about ‘old’ and rewrite the rule book on ageing.”

Anne Burgess AM

Attended by 150 guests, the event revolved around rewriting the rules on ageing and disrupting the stereotypes, assumptions and stigmas of ageing to make way for a modern take on growing older.

The event was hosted by COTA SA Deputy President, Anne Burgess AM, who was joined by a panel of speakers including veteran media personality, Keith Conlon OAM, chef and food manufacturer, Maggie Beer AO, and Chair of the Aboriginal Health Council of South Australia, Polly Sumner Dodd.

Guests had various opportunities to reflect on and talk about their experiences of growing older with like-minded people.

Leading up to and during the event, COTA SA asked older South Australians what positive words they would use to describe getting older. The most common responses were words like freedom, experience, joyous, enlightening, healthy and active. The challenges of growing older were also considered, which included words like feeling invisible, pain, ill health, loneliness, uncertainty, and financial insecurity.

Discussions also highlighted the current rules on aging that need to change:

  • Not to be mutton dressed as lamb
  • The inability to learn new skills 
  • Unable to be promoted in the workplace 
  • The perception of being doddery and silly  
  • The perception of being a burden on society

“These rules have been inherited from the times of our parents and grandparents and ageism is making them stick…We have worked hard to achieve longer and healthier lives but despite this, we are stuck with stereotypes of older age that don’t fit with our modern reality.

“Together, we must reject the stereotypes about ‘old’ and rewrite the rule book on ageing,” concluded Anne.

COTA SA will use the qualitative data gathered at the event to write the new rulebook on ageing and tell the story of what it’s like to grow older in 2022 and beyond.


COTA SA

cota.org.au

@cotasouthaus

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