Elder Abuse – what do we know about it?

Judith Davey 19/7/21

Elder abuse and neglect in all its forms detracts from the health and wellbeing of older people. It creates mental and physical harm and distress, and can strip them of their voice, their rights, and their possessions. Despite evidence that elder abuse has occurred throughout history and across social groups and cultures, it has only recently been studied and named as a social problem. Tackling this problem is hampered by the lack of clear definitions of what it is; by the difficulty in obtaining data on its extent and characteristics; and the lack of initiatives to avoid and address elder abuse.

Definition

There is no single internationally accepted definition of elder abuse and neglect. New Zealand and many other countries use the definition adopted by the World Health Organisation in 2002: “A single or repeated act or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person”.

Within this statement are elements which, in their turn, require definition and which highlight the complexity of the problem. Firstly, what is an “older person”? Many organisations, including Age Concern New Zealand, which has been very active in providing elder abuse and neglect prevention services, defines “older person” as 65 years or older. What sort of harm is involved? It may be physical, psychological/emotional, material/financial, or sexual. Not all of these are crimes in the legal sense.

The phrase “where there is an expectation of trust” means that “stranger” crimes against older people would not be covered by the WHO definition. These would include criminal activity, such as burglary, assault by strangers, fraud and “scams”. And where does institutional abuse come in?

What about neglect, where” lack of appropriate action” causes harm? Self-neglect by older people is an important issue, seriously threatening wellbeing. Definitions also require consideration of the cultural context. Interpretations of what constitutes abuse, and the appropriateness of responses will vary. For example, disrespect, dishonour, lack of esteem shown to kaumatua/elders may be seen as abuse in the Maori and Asian communities.

Types of abuse and neglect

Abuse, neglect and violence against older persons take many forms and occur in different settings (private homes, residential care, etc). Several types can happen at the same time. The following categories are roughly in order of prevalence.

Psychological abuse refers to behaviour that causes the victim anguish, stress, or fear. It includes verbal abuse, intimidation, humiliation, harassment, removal of decision-making powers and control of choices, and threats of damage to property or physical abuse.

Material/financial abuse is the illegal or improper exploitation and/or use of older people’s funds or resources. Examples include theft of money or property, appropriation of assets by people with legal powers over them (such as Power of Attorney). For example, a family keep an old man with multiple health issues at home because paying rest home fees would erode his assets – their inheritance.

Physical abuse is the infliction of pain or injury, physical coercion and restraint. including medication abuse (deliberate misuse of prescriptions that sedate or result in harm) and inappropriate use of restraint or confinement. For example, an older woman has been giving her son cash. When she doesn’t have enough to spare, he pushes her, twists her arm and forcibly takes her handbag with her purse. Physical abuse could also be a continuation of partner abuse which has been a life-long issue.

Sexual abuse is non-consensual sexual contact of any kind; forced, coerced or exploitive sexual behaviour or threats, especially where a person lacks mental capacity to give consent or understand.

Institutional abuse arises from the policies or practices of an organisation that impinge on the rights and well-being of older people (institutional racism is a comparable concept). This may occur within a residential care facility, hospital, or other public or private sector agency, including financial and social service organisations. It may arise where there is insufficient staff or where practice focuses more on organisational convenience than client needs.

People in residential care may be subject to abuse from their family and visitors or by staff. Examples include neglect, forced feeding, rough handling, inappropriate use of restraints, or cultural insensitivity. There are also cases of stealing from residents.

Neglect is when another person fails to meet the physical and emotional needs of a person. Passive/unintentional neglect may arise from carers’ inadequate knowledge, illness or lack of trust in prescribed services. Active/intentional neglect is the conscious and deliberate deprivation of care.

So why does elder abuse and neglect happen?

Some of the theories about the nature and causes of elder abuse and neglect relate to the vulnerability of older people, who may be dependent on others. Social isolation from family and friends and from supportive services increases the potential for abuse, because it offers opportunities, and the ability to conceal it.

Elder abuse and neglect are predominantly perpetrated by family members, making it an intergenerational issue, especially where there is a history of family conflict and issues of power and control. Alcohol and drug abuse, psychological and behavioural problems may be involved as well as financial stress and unemployment. The older person may be dependent on others, making them vulnerable to abuse. Or the abuser may be financially and emotionally dependent on the older person.  Older people may choose to remain in a living situation which is not physically, psychologically, or financially safe for them out of loyalty to family.

In the case of older people with significant disabilities, carer stress can lead to abuse, but this is not seen as the dominant cause. Dementia or other medical conditions may produce behaviour which is abusive of carers. Both victims and their carers may be isolated older people, in a powerless and dependent position.

The ‘ecological model’, links elder abuse and neglect with broader social issues, instead of focussing solely on individual and family contexts, associating it with older people’s relatively low status in society and lack of economic power.  This suggests that to the need to explain why and how elder abuse and neglect occurs needs an exploration of social structures and ageist attitudes. 

Because of the problems of definition and reporting, reliable statistics on the prevalence of elder abuse and neglect are difficult to find. As with other forms of family violence, elder abuse and neglect is likely to be under-reported. This may be due to a lack of awareness of the problem or reluctance to report suspected cases. Older people especially may be reluctant to report abuse by their closest relatives.

Research by the Family Centre Social Policy Research Unit used data from the New Zealand Longitudinal Study of Ageing in 2012 to measure the prevalence of elder abuse in New Zealand[1]. This used self-reporting and aimed to identify types of elder abuse and neglect; to calculate prevalence and produce future projections. Associations with gender, marital status and ethnicity were tested alongside a range of health and wellbeing measures.

This study demonstrated that elder abuse was prevalent for at least 10% of participants aged 65 and over. It gave insights into the extent of different types of abuse. Other broad findings included:

  • Psychological abuse was more frequent than coercion and physical abuse.
  • Women were more likely to experience interpersonal and financial abuse than men, but men were significantly over-represented in coercion and more likely to have property taken without their permission.
  • Māori experienced significantly more elder abuse compared with non-Māori.
  • Divorced, separated and widowed older people experienced a greater level of sad and lonely feelings than partnered people and were more likely to have property taken without their permission.
  • Married people had the lowest elder abuse scores.
  • Statistical correlations were found between elder abuse and lower levels of health and wellbeing, and higher levels of depression and loneliness.

The authors concluded that, if nothing is done to reduce elder abuse and neglect, there could be substantial increases in the percentage of older people experiencing abuse. The projections show that it is essential to address these matters sooner rather than later, because of the personal distress to many older people and the increasing costs to government.

For more information about elder abuse, you can go to our website www.ageconcern.org.nz or phone 0800 652 105


[1] A summary of this research was published by the Office for Senior Citizens in 2015 – “Towards gaining a greater understanding of Elder Abuse and Neglect in New Zealand”.

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Breaking down barriers to social connection

by Louise Rees, Age Concern New Zealand.

My mother tells stories of huddling in a bomb shelter with her whanau and neighbours, singing and joking as German bombs pounded our hometown of Swansea during the Second World War, flattening a large part of the town centre.

New Zealand, like the rest of the world, is now caught up in another global crisis, but instead of huddling together, people are facing unprecedented social restrictions in order to combat the spread of Covid-19. At a time of increased anxiety and hardship for many, we are required to isolate and distance ourselves from others as never before.

The social and psychological effects of the resulting changed patterns of interaction are causing concern amongst experts and policy makers in New Zealand and overseas:

  • Vivek Murthy, former US surgeon general writes about the potential for a worsening social recession in the wake of the virus, as restrictions on social interaction cause our “social muscle” to atrophy.
  • In the UK, a multidisciplinary group of experts have published a position paper in The Lancet on the need for a research strategy to understand the neurological, psychological and social effects of Covid-19 on people who have had the virus, on vulnerable groups, and on the general population.
  • In New Zealand funding has been allocated for research into the mental health effects of the pandemic.

Age Concern is here to help in a crisis

During lockdown, local Age Concerns reported a surge of enquiries from older people who were not online, and were struggling to pay bills, or access groceries. Some of these individuals were also severely lonely (many isolating in a bubble of one) and required social support as well as help to address practical issues.

The Age Concern Accredited Visiting service moved from face-to-face to phone communication during levels 4 and 3. This worked well for some clients, but less well for others, especially those who were hearing-impaired. At level 2, visitors were able visit their clients in person again, but a survey of visiting service volunteers in late June found that 15% had yet to resume in-home visits for a variety of reasons, which included ongoing anxiety about the pandemic.

Advice and information from government

As the pandemic continues to disrupt normal social interaction, individuals, families and organisations face the challenges of maintaining distanced social connection at restrictive alert levels, and then rebuilding our “social muscle” and getting back out there again as restrictions lift. This can be particularly difficult for those who are anxious by nature, or who are facing other challenges.

The New Zealand Office for Seniors website provides information on the impacts of Covid-19 on older New Zealanders. Tracking of selected wellbeing indicators has shown that, whilst young people are still the most likely to be lonely, the increase in loneliness during the pandemic has been greater for older people than for other age groups, particularly for women aged 75+.

Office for Seniors also communicated with key stakeholders in Auckland, and heard from them that:

  • Older people who were vulnerable before the pandemic are struggling, especially those who are digitally isolated.
  • There has been a decline in social participation even at alert level 1, which has been exacerbated by the second lockdown.

The Ministry of Health website offers general  guidance on looking after mental wellbeing during the pandemic, as well as a free 24 hour counselling helpline and other suggestions of where to find help.

Let’s End Loneliness website

In 2018, before Covid-19 existed, seven organisations already concerned about increasing feelings of loneliness in our communities –  Age Concern New Zealand, St John New Zealand, Carers New Zealand, Student Volunteer Army, Royal New Zealand Returned and Services Association, Alzheimers New Zealand and The Salvation Army – got together to set up a coalition to work together on tackling the issue.

In August, the group launched the ‘Let’s End Loneliness’ website as a resource for anyone experiencing or concerned about loneliness. The website offers research, news stories, and practical evidence-based ideas on how to tackle loneliness:

  • For ourselves
  • In our community
  • In our workplace

This has never been more relevant. Loneliness is a normal human experience, and most of us will feel lonely at some points during our lives. Right now, though, the pandemic is creating additional barriers to social connection and is causing more people to feel lonely.

This is important because if loneliness goes on for a long time and becomes chronic, it can seriously damage health and wellbeing. So, it’s important to do something about it. The good news is that loneliness can be addressed and solved.

The ‘Let’s End Loneliness’ website is a place to connect with others to learn about loneliness and to share ideas, challenges, and successes. To find out more about loneliness, how to tackle it, where to get help, and how you and your organisation can get involved go to letsendloneliness.co.nz.

Together we can end loneliness one person, one community, one workplace at a time.

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Improving the Safety of Older Pedestrians

Judith A.Davey, April 2021

Updated from a blog post published by Age Concern New Zealand in September 2013

Older people are especially vulnerable as road users. The 65 plus age group is over-represented among road deaths and this is especially true for deaths of pedestrians. Linked to this is the fact that walking accounts for a higher proportion of time spent travelling for older people than for the total population of all ages – 15% for those aged 65-74 and 19% for people 75 plus (all ages 13%).[1] Among the key areas for action set out in “Better Later Life: He Oranga Kaumatua 2019-2034” (which replaced the Positive Ageing Strategy) is to “Enhance Opportunities for Social Connection and Participation” by older people. Improving the safety of older pedestrians is clearly a vital step in enabling older people to live more active and involved lives.

The road casualty figures do not include trips and falls on footpaths. A broken leg or hip as the result of a fall can signal the end of independence for older people. But pedestrians often appear to take a “back seat” to vehicles. As a report from the United Kingdom Department for Transport makes clear:

Making walking easier is an equal opportunities issue; as long as walking is disproportionately carried out by people on lower incomes, women, children and older people, it will be seen as a lower status mode of transport.   

The New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing carried out a study of pedestrian safety for older people in 2007[2]. The study included focus groups with older people and interviews with road safety coordinators, traffic engineers and traffic planners. These three groups came up with similar areas of concern.

Pedestrian infrastructure

In many suburban areas there are no footpaths or they serve only one side of the road (photo 1). Where there are footpaths, their surfaces may be less than ideal for walkers; paving stones are often uneven and slippery when wet, especially if covered with leaves. The steepness, gradient and design of kerbs and cut-downs may provide further risks for pedestrians.

1. Lack of footpaths in Kapiti district

Footpaths in central areas are often obstructed by sandwich boards, shop goods and café furniture, which reduce ease and safety for walkers, especially those visually or mobility impaired (photo 2). The fear of collisions with obstructions and other footpath users, including inconsiderate skateboarders, cyclists, electric scooters and mobility scooter users, can constitute a constraint for frail older people.


2. City launches bid to tidy up sandwich boards

A particular problem is central cities are driveways and building entrances which cross footpaths. Often drivers using them do not give way to pedestrians. Pedestrians give way to drivers on the roadway, so when vehicles cross footpaths they should give way to walkers, who, in fact have the right of way (photo 3)!


3. Vehicles crossing footpath – Central Wellington

Crossing roads

Often there are not sufficient safe crossing points for pedestrians, particularly on high traffic volume roads and in areas with high numbers of older people, such as near retirement villages. Even where there are formal pedestrian crossings, not all drivers are considerate enough to let people cross or who do not know or obey the road rules. A particular problem at signaled crossings is that the time given (when the “green man” appears) is too short for many older people to cross without anxiety and many drivers fail to give way to pedestrians on signaled crossings as they turn (photo 4).



4. Sign to indicate pedestrian right of way to turning vehicles

Crossing point design can improve safety, for example pedestrian refuges between lanes offer some protection against traffic and allow the crossing to be done in two stages (photo 5).

5. Railings and staged pedestrian crossing – Wellington

Awareness, consultation and education

Older people may experience a reduction in physical abilities, such as vision, hearing, walking speed and ability to judge the speed of traffic, which affects their safety as pedestrians. Traffic planning and management strategies need to bear this in mind, given our rapidly ageing population. A two-way approach is clearly needed, matching education with consultation. All groups who contributed to the research called for planners and others in a position to improve pedestrian safety to consult more widely with older people and community groups to ensure that they are aware of their special concerns.

[1] New Zealand Household Travel data 2011-2014

[2] Judith Davey and Virginia Wilton, Improving the Safety of Older Pedestrians, supported by the  John Bailey Road Safety Research Fund, published in January 2007.

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Are You Past Your Peak?

Dr Doug Wilson

Many of us would like to revisit our Golden years, our peak years of performance in some sphere or other. I was something then. Well most of us are still something now, no matter your physical status. Your high point may have been in a sporting event; you represented your school, or local club, or at best your country. You can look back at reports of your striking performance, and may even see it on replay TV. Wow!

But most athletic competence peaks in your late 20s or early 30s, no matter what the sport. It still remains a curiosity in international professional golf that the majority of major championships are won by players in their 20s, or early 30s. And yet playing golf for 20 or 30 years should enhance short game skills, to compensate for any minimal falloff in power for long distance driving. And yet only two players over the age of 45 have won a major since 1945, one of them being the great Jack Nicklaus. You may retain power, but optimal coordination of hand, eye, and muscle has already begun to fade in your 30s. So returning to the physical heyday is a rare option. Tiger Woods may break that barrier after his first win in recent years in late 2018, but let’s see.

In other spheres various skills are well retained and even improve with age. Many musicians, are able to maintain a high level of performance with age. The Rolling Stones are still prancing around on stages in their 70s. A number of outstanding musicians have performed well into their 80s. Vladimir Horowitz, the pianist in New York City in 1989. He had been giving public concerts in his mid-80s. Arthur Rubinstein, also a pianist, followed the experience of Mozart as a child prodigy, giving his first concert aged 7, and performing with the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at the age of 10. His last concert in New York was when he was 89. He was a buoyant, outrageous and magical spirit. He left his wife at the age of 90 for a woman aged 33. Verdi, the great Italian opera composer, died at the age of 89. His composing career after the early wonders of La Traviata, and Il Trovatore, continued into his 80s, with great works like Falstaff and Otello.

Politicians often exhibit great longevity, Konrad Adenauer was Chancellor of Germany at the age of 89. Churchill became Prime Minister again in the UK in his early 80s. The recently elected Prime Minister of Malaysia is 93. The present U.S. Senate includes a number of senators who head various influential committees, despite the fact they are in their 70s and even one or two in their 80s. Of course persistence in such elected positions is no indicator of quality of performance. But at least they were persistent in holding their job.

Of course our various faculties fade with time. The great majority of people need spectacles for reading by their mid-40s. Mental function reaches a peak in your late 20s before your thinking speed starts to slow in your 30s. Performance slows with some minor episodes of forgetfulness in your 50s. Other aspects of memory and executive function are already slowing at that stage. In your 70s and 80s most people struggle with working memory, both short-term and long-term.

Judgement and experience are entire other facets of life and competence, and worthy of a fresh story line.

But as you can’t turn back the clock, you can at least reminisce and enjoy the memories. Even failed attempts to relive past glories can have their impact.

Some years ago my 80-yearold parents were holidaying in the Pacific Island of Samoa. With them was a widowed friend of the same vintage. She had, in her long forgotten youth, been an old-style singer as a hobby, a talent long since laid to rest. One evening on tour the elderly widow sampled too many alcohol-spiked fruit cocktails, and decided she would return to her youth and to entertain other tourists with some of her golden hits from the 1940s. The rollicking music hall sing along Ta-Ra-Ra-Boom-De-Ay, delivered in the quavering voice of an octogenarian, was a serious mishit for the general audience of semi-inebriated, shiny-faced, 30 years younger tourists. She was persuaded to stop. In time everybody settled comfortably for a recovery night.

At 2am in the morning my father was called. Police here. Do you know a Mrs Walker? He did: She’s been travelling with us.

We have her here at the police station. My father hurriedly dressed. He was collected by a police car and taken to the station. There, looking very puzzled, was his elderly friend. She wore a police jacket over an ankle-length flannel nighty and bare feet. Apparently her vision of return to the old days had resurfaced She went walking at 1.00 am seeking an audience. She was eventually picked up from the side of the road by a local Samaritan, a bar tender on his way home, and brought on the back of his motorbike to the police station. Probably not a bad adventure, but one that emphasises we usually need to match our ambition to our current abilities.

Our biological and mental functions fade over decades, yet some balance is always being found so the real you remains, just a little more tottery over time. We may think more slowly, but the final thoughts emerging may well be better than ever, or at least very original. One caution for some is to regret what skills they’ve lost. That serves no end other than unresolved disappointment. Discard the regret, and replace with a soft smile remembering the good times gone by. For your age you may well be at your new peak.

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What is financial abuse and why does it matter?

Judith Davey (updated from posts published by Age Concern in 2014)

20/5/21

Financial abuse, along with and often combined with psychological abuse, is the most common form of elder abuse and it is rising. The World Health Organisation defines financial elder abuse (FEA) as:

The illegal or improper exploitation or use of funds or resources of the older person.

This sits within the generally accepted definition of elder abuse:

Any act or omission that results in harm to an older person which occurs in a relationship where there is an implication of trust.

How far should this “implication of trust” extend? Does FEA include stealing or defrauding older people of their goods and/or property? In this case it would include scams and fraud and even burglary and mugging. Should FEA be seen as a crime, i.e. against the law? Are there situations when financial abuse is not a crime, for example when family members use assets as joint property?

There can also be problems when people are acting on an older person’s behalf – an enduring power of attorney for example.  Should family members and carers keep up an older person’s charitable donations, which will use up assets? What about intent? Does unwise or poor financial management by a family member constitute financial abuse?

Should age be part of the definition of financial abuse at all? Don’t all people need protection from having their money and assets stolen or misused? Are older people in need of special protection? Laws and policies aimed specifically at them could be seen as paternalistic and discriminatory.

Clearly, financial abuse is a complex issue. It involves a range of perpetrators – family members, caregivers, professional advisers and commercial agents.  It takes place in different settings – private homes, residential care and also in wider society as older people have contact with banks, financial advisers and a multiplicity of financial and social services.

Why is FEA important?

Financial elder abuse may lead to a permanent loss of financial security and even be life-threatening. It has been linked to depression, psychological harm and declining physical health. The result can be higher levels of dependence and an increased need for care.

In psychological terms, FEA may increase fear and lack of trust. Older people may lose faith in their family members or service providers, even if this is unwarranted. FEA threatens the dignity and human rights of elders.  

Older people may not have the ability or opportunity to recoup income and assets lost through FEA. The services to protect victims are not well developed. Recognition of FEA is a comparatively “new” issue, but it is hard to ignore its importance.

Why does financial elder abuse occur?

There are a range of explanations.

Elder abuse of all types has been associated with older people’s relatively low status in society and lack of economic power, making them vulnerable, especially older women. Abuse occurs when people simply do not recognise that older people are entitled to control their own money and assets and to use them as they think fit.

Cultural differences may influence whether FEA is recognised, for example whether a child should return money borrowed from a parent. An Australian study compared views from the Greek and the Vietnamese communities[1]. They differed in how important self-reliance and independence should be for older people.  In some cultures, the family unit is given a higher value than the individual. How assets are allocated is a family matter. The researchers concluded; “What in some cultures is a reflection of tradition and established practice in others is deemed to be financial abuse.”

In another view, FEA is seen as an opportunistic crime, which occurs in everyday activities. It is common for families to manage older people’s financial affairs, from everyday shopping to substantial investments. This provides the opportunity and the temptation.

There can also be a sense of entitlement. Family members may think that, as they will, or should, inherit an asset eventually, they might as well get the benefit sooner rather than later. This is aptly called ‘inheritance impatience’. Family members may try to protect “their” inheritance by not incurring expenses even though they are necessary for the health and well-being of the older person.

As well as inheritance expectations, family abusers may feel that they should be paid for care giving. There may even be an element of “settling old scores”, Where family members have been abused in the past by people who are now vulnerable, they may take advantage of this. There may be an element of blackmail, as in examples where older people are threatened with not seeing their grandchildren if they do not provide money or property. In other cases, companionship or assistance may be withheld.

FEA may be triggered by the perpetrators’ problems, such as financial or social stress, gambling problems, drug and alcohol abuse. The abusers may simply not understand their obligations. Under a Power of Attorney they are required to act in the best interests of the donor and not for personal benefit; and to keep the donor’s funds and property separate from their own.

Many would suggest that the motive is simply greed (Peri et al. 2007, p.40).

I had been giving her $50 each week and then when I came in here [residential care] she took everything. She robbed me of my money and sold all my possessions (older woman).[2]

How does FEA differ from other forms of EA and family violence?

“Financial exploitation” or “coercion” are terms which help to distinguish the attitudes and practices which constitute FEA. Some commentators suggest that FEA is more opportunistic than other forms of elder abuse, while others argue the opposite, that it is more often planned. Some say that it is motivated simply by greed, rather than the interpersonal dynamics that promote other kinds of abuse. There may be a fine line between coercion and genuine willingness for older people to help out family members.

Unlike most other forms of abuse, FEA can be perpetrated remotely. Several of its forms require access only to the assets, not the person. Because financial transactions are often recorded, for example in bank records, FEA may be potentially easier to detect. 

On the other hand, there are some similarities to domestic violence. Some FEA involves the abuse of power and control, as in other forms of domestic violence. When FEA occurs, an older person may fear that telling someone will lead to the loss of the relationship, possible retaliation, or further loss of independence. They may be reluctant to believe that a trusted person is exploiting them. They may not want the abuser to get into trouble, although they do want the abuse to stop. As with other abuse victims, they may fear that they will not be believed.


[1] Wainer, J.,  Owada, K., Lowndes, G. and Darzins, P. (2010) Diversity and financial elder abuse in Victoria.  Protecting Elders Assets Study, Monash University, Melbourne.

[2]  Peri, K., Fanslow, J., Hand, J. and Parsons, J. (January 2008) Elder abuse and neglect: Exploration of risk and protective factors. NZ Families Commission, Wellington.

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Oldcodgerus Doug – the new species

Dr Doug Wilson – 20/04/2021

Life has a habit of throwing up nice surprises.
Kids, grandkids, work opportunities – I’ve always counted myself lucky for what’s come may way, whether expected or out of the blue.
And so, a few weeks back I was counting my lucky stars once again when I found myself trussed up in a tuxedo and sharing dinner with 800 people, nervously awaiting the results of the of the Senior New Zealander of the Year award.

I was humbled to be there because the other finalists were outstanding.
Winning the title was a surprise, a pleasure and a great privilege.
To represent the older community, no matter how you define it, is an intense honour.

Kim Hill, to whom I must thank for her communication opportunities, describes me as coming from the dark side of 80. I’m finding 83 is not too bad though, come on in. There’s still stuff we can do.

There are now so many of us of the 65 plus community, close to 800,000, each with their own personal stories, that a single voice can be drowned out.

My role is to talk and write, to broaden understanding across generations, using humour as a facilitating weapon of communication.
I deployed this weapon in my acceptance speech.
Describing myself as an ‘old codger’ got an uncomfortably big laugh from all the youngsters.

Warning the audience that they were all ageing as I spoke, and that they should ignore the older generation at their peril – because we can be troublesome as they well know – got even more applause.
That’s right – ignore us at your peril!

Immediately after the awards I received lots of congratulations and requests for selfies.
To my surprise there were repeated engagements with younger attendees, who enjoyed both the laughter and the positive attitude about living longer.

During the evening we heard the various stories behind the other candidates’ awards. It was apparent there is a dazzling array of new talents with innovations, ideas, interventions, technologies, social engineering, and other wondrous activities that have been both created and implemented. For me this was like opening a magic box of tricks, treasures, and visions of the future.

A stand-out was Jazz Thornton, a young mental health advocate who attempted suicide on different occasions as a teenager. To get her positive mental health message across she trained in filmmaking. Her short film Dear Suicidal Me had more than 80 million views in its first 48 hours after release.

Another was Ranjna Patel. Ranjna was asked by Counties Manukau police to see if she could assist dealing with the South Auckland Asian community domestic violence. She turned the standard approach upside down, removing the offending men from their homes, providing them with emergency accommodation, counselling and behaviour therapy, while providing support for the family at home. A recent Massey University longitudinal study looked at the project, the terrible situations usually marked by repeat offending, and found over 60% of them had not reoffended in 5 years, a dazzling success story.
These were just two of many stories. It was a supermarket of creative riches.

The older community can only gain by supporting these miracles of local creativity. It is not handwringing but getting hands deep into problems to help.
Maybe for some I was representative of a new species, Oldcodgerus Doug.  

But the multiple responses since the awards have been both generous and friendly. The experience sends me a message of our need to accelerate cross generational dialogue, and to recognise many older people also have creative thoughts and positive attitudes.

I’m on a mission to support the older community as much as I can, while at the same time admiring in public the positive inventions and initiatives which will shape our future, old and young.
It just so happens that my new book Ageing Well: how to navigate a life’s journey in your later years is about to hit the shelves.

My intention is to spread the word: The more we know the better we can cope. I hope it also presents further evidence for the older community, while facing their individual versions of getting older, that they have great capacity to assess, adapt, and eventually accept how things are.

We’re lucky to be old and wise. My experience in Auckland shows the younger generations admire us for it.

We should make the most of it.

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Age-Phobia

Judith Davey

24/4/2021

Updated from two posts in 2016.

Age discrimination can be applied on an individual basis – older people being passed over for jobs; being patronised as “lovey” and “dear” and generally being seen as a stereotype rather than as  mature and experienced individuals. But what I am calling “age-phobia” is much more high level and generalised. One good example is a quote from the Sydney Morning Herald a few years ago:

The ramifications (of ageing) could be serious as the elderly become an additional burden to the traditional scourges of poverty and disease. [1]

How does it feel to be compared to malaria or the Covid virus?

More recently, Nigel Latta hosted a Hard Facts episode in which he was made up to look like himself as a “really old” man of 70 (he is in his fifies now).  He recoiled in horror at the bald head, the straggly grey hair and the lined face.  The message was; we don’t want to think about getting old because it is so horrific; we will become ugly and repellent. Then we saw old people lolling around in the sunshine, enjoying a life of dependence on younger generations. But some of those interviewed were saying positive things about their lives. This was greeted with amazement by Latta. I couldn’t help feeling that he stoked up inter-generational competition, if not outright antagonism. Age-phobia? Do you agree?

“Transhuman” is a book by Ben Bova (a science fiction writer, who died in 2020, aged 88). It features a biochemist who develops a treatment to reduce cell ageing and to cure cancer. The FBI and US government try their best to block his work, locking him and his colleagues up in a military base in the Arizona desert. This is because the innovation will allow everyone to live to 100, 120 or even 150. It will, according to the powers that be, “bankrupt America” in health insurance costs and pension support. Of course the elite – selected people, including themselves- will benefit, but not the masses. The protagonist manages to escape and distributes his findings in scientific publications, to my relief. I was expecting the FBI to assassinate him. It may be a feasible scenario based on age phobia and the assumption that old age inevitably brings dependence and disability.

Sure, there is more acknowledgement now of the contribution which older people can make, economically and socially.  But age phobia is not dead. It rears its head with every mention of demeaning words used for older people – wrinklies, grey-hairs, geezers, codgers, fossils and fogeys – even “elderly” comes with connotations of frailty and vulnerability, as shown in the 2020 Covid 19 lockdown period[2]. The death rate from the pandemic itself has even been named “the boomer remover”.

There has been ambivalence about ageing for millennia. On the positive side, throughout time leaders have been greeted with “Long Live  X!” The Old Testament is full of statements in which long life is seen as a reward from God for goodness.

The fear of the Lord prolongs days: but the years of the wicked shall be shortened (Proverbs 10:27).

The classical age brought down the perceived age of highest (male) development – Hippocrates said 56 and Aristotle 35. Shakespeare, in the seven ages of man speech, is not complimentary about old age[3]. His sixth age is “the lean and slippered pantaloon…. his big manly voice turning again toward childish treble”. And the seventh and last scene of all – “second childishness and mere oblivion. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”

This characterisation is well known, but I like the Grimms’ story (early 19th century) quoted by Simone de Beauvoir.[4]

God set 30 years as the lifetime for man and animals. The ass, dog, monkey wanted this reduced to, respectively, to 18, 12 and 10 years. Man asked for longer – so he was given 30 years as a Man; 18 as an ass, carrying burdens and feeding others; 12 as a dog, growling; and 10 as a monkey, without wits, making children laugh (adding up to 70).

Nowadays, there is still ambivalence. “Old” can be a term of endearment – “good old so and so” we often say.  But “dirty old man” is not complimentary. I feel that the term “elderly” should only be used for the very frail and dependent. As longevity increases, more people are living to 100 and beyond. On this basis the sixties decade is “middle aged” – 75 is the new 65. Are we applying “elderly” to an age group spanning 35 years or more, and two generations? Cartoonist Tom Scott (in his seventies) rejects the term. He says his generation is tough. “If you dropped a nuclear weapon on downtown Auckland, out of the rubble would come cockroaches, rats and baby boomers.”


[1] Jerome Socolovsky, Greying of humanity a threat to world budgets. Sydney Morning Herald, April 8, 2002.

[2] And the very worst that I have heard -“pre-dead”.

[3] The Seven Ages of Man speech in “As you like it

[4] In The Coming of Age (1970), Simone de Beauvoir presents a study spanning a thousand years and a variety of different nations and cultures to provide a clear and alarming picture of “society’s secret shame”–the separation and distance from our communities that the old must suffer and endure.


 


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Is age-friendliness just for older people?

Judith Davey 29/03/21

“towards a society for all ages” – the United Nations’ slogan for the International Year of Older Persons in 1999

But whenever you see a report with “age friendly” in its title, the accompanying photos almost always depict older people. What does ‘age-friendliness’ actually mean? Where does the “for all ages” come in?  Do age-friendly initiatives really create an environment which benefits all ages? How believable is the assertion that design, housing features and urban developments that take older adults into account will lead to universal good/benefit?

It is interesting to note that, well before the International Year of Older Persons, the World Health Organisation (WHO), now the main global protagonist of age friendly cities and communities, changed its focus from “the elderly” to “ageing,” to make the point that good health is everybody’s business.

More recently, the New Zealand Health of Older People Strategy, originally published in 2002,changed its title to the Healthy Ageing Strategy. Do these changes recognise a shift in thinking, to a wider view? If we say “older people” or “seniors”, this focuses attention on a fixed group, identified by age or life stage. ‘Ageing’ attempts to resolve this limitation by focusing on a process which everyone is undergoing from the moment they are born and makes it easier for everyone to identify with it. It also avoids the problem of having to suggest an age at which people can begin to be considered “old”.

WHO has continued to support this trend, stating “An age-friendly city emphasizes enablement rather than disablement; it is friendly for all ages and not just ‘elder-friendly’”.[1] Indeed, the notion that ‘age-friendliness benefits all ages’ forms one of the arguments to support investment in urban improvements, especially the physical aspects of urban design: better footpaths and pedestrian crossings, parks and recreation facilities, and transport services, aiming for a ‘community for all ages’. This a great idea to promote “buy-in “so long as the specific needs of older people are given due prominence.

Intergenerational action

Using “ageing” as the focus brings in intergenerational issues. Some studies in the Age-friendly Cities and Communities (AFCC) literature emphasise the importance of opportunities for social integration and interaction between older and younger people. For example, a study of younger and older adult bus users found that creating an age-friendly bus service would benefit all users.[2] Measures to combat social exclusion often include intergenerational interaction and opportunities to develop activities that span the generations.  The Age Concern Accredited Visitors service is a good example of this, in which visitors and visitees often come from different generations. Another is the activities of the Student Volunteer Army. Promoting intergenerational solidarity is helpful in combatting arguments which pit the generations against each other, such as tax and retirement income policies.  

Other initiatives include intergenerationalmeeting places to facilitate social contact; programmes to encourage connection with neighbours – these often appeared spontaneously during the Covid 19 lock-downs in 2020; co-housing; intergenerational and multi-ethnic community centres, library programmes, and cultural events.  Such initiatives have been frequently identified as ways to encourage age-integrated neighbourhoods. The extent to which such intergenerational programmes and structures result in sustained social capital formation and social inclusion needs to be assessed.

Universal design

The notion of ‘a design for all ages’ is based on this belief that if you “Design for the young you exclude the old; design for the old and you include the young.” Universal Design, (sometimes also called inclusive design) is the design and structure of an environment so that it can be understood, accessed, and used to the greatest extent possible by all people, regardless of their age or ability[3].

In New Zealand, Lifetime Design Limited is a registered charity established by CCS Disability Action. Its goal is to foster and promote design standards that work for people right across life’s ages and abilities – from young families to older and disabled people.

A Lifemark™ rated home includes features that meet the needs of people of different ages and abilities and avoids barriers that may discriminate against people living in or visiting the home. Such homes are designed to be usable by a variety of people across their lifetime, without the need for major adaptation. The conclusion that “90% of people want to age in place but only 5% have homes that will allow it” seems to ring true.

Lifemark Design Standards are based on key principles:

Usable – thoughtful design features that meet the needs of people of different ages and abilities over time.

Adaptable – easy and safe access for all.

Accessible – to suit changing needs as we progress through life.

Safe – features that make home life safer and easier for all.

If modifications to meet these principles are added at a later stage, the cost is often very high and can entail a long and onerous retrofit, a conclusion supported by BRANZ[4] research.

Broadening the Age Friendly aim should include the extension of the lifetime/universal approach from the design of houses, appliances, furniture and home utensils to neighbourhoods in which inter-generational groups meet, interact and negotiate shared use of their environment. This is another way to enhance social and emotional understanding between age groups, increase harmony, and promote sharing.[5]


[1] WHO (2007) Global age friendly cities: A guide. World Health Organisation, Geneva.

who.int/ageing/projects/age_friendly_cities_network/en/ NETWORK

[2] Broome, K., McKenna, K., Fleming, J. and Worrall, L. (2009) Bus use and older people: A literature review applying the person-environment-occupation model in macro practice. Scandinavian Journal of Occupational Therapy, 16 p.3–12.

[3] http://www.aucklanddesignmanual.co.nz/design-subjects/universal_design

[4] Building Research Association of New Zealand. https://www.branz.co.nz/

[5] Biggs, S. and Carr, A. (2016) Age Friendliness, Childhood, and Dementia: Toward Generationally Intelligent Environments. In Moulaert, T. and Garon, S. (Editors) Age-Friendly Cities and Communities in International Comparison: Political Lessons, Scientific Avenues, and Democratic Issues. Springer International Publishing, Switzerland.

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Training and Re-training for Older Workers

Judith Davey

4/3/21 Updated from July 2016

Will the ageing of the population lead to labour and skill shortages and increasing recruitment problems? Almost everyone I spoke to in my research on workforce ageing in New Zealand agreed that it will[1]. So, then the question arises: Is training and re-training older workers a possible solution to skill shortages?

There was overwhelming agreement with this among employers, with some qualifications about the type of work involved and the willingness of older workers to undertake training.

“It depends on individual receptiveness and willingness. Some workers don’t want to do anything different.”

Older workers may have physical limitations and cannot continue heavy work, even if training is available. Some employers thought that mental ability may also be a problem when it came to IT training, but others contested this and said that older workers only needed appropriate encouragement. Many lack higher educational attainment, making further learning – getting back to the classroom – challenging. There were also reservations about the usefulness of formal courses, suggesting that re-training on the job was preferable. Given these considerations, some employers recommended training related to motivation rather than job content alone. Older workers need the self-confidence to demonstrate their value, marketability and desire to work, perhaps in non-traditional ways.

Older people have already got 80% through being at work and only need 20% to top up.”

As an example, a financial manager in a firm I was talking to was unwilling to go to an Institute of Management course on some new aspect of accounting. She lacked self-confidence and felt she would be seen as ignorant. In the end I said I would go with her and off we both went. It was soon clear who lacked the knowledge!

Who is responsible?

The candidates were the government, employers (sometimes through ITOs) and the workers themselves. Most respondents thought that government has a role to play, especially to provide information on needs and benefits; to identify and respond to gaps in skills; and to provide encouragement to employers to provide training. Many advocated a joint approach, suggesting:

Tax breaks for employers, training subsidies for all workers – encourage employers to take responsibility. We need a policy and practice framework with employers involved and subsidised”.

Some respondents called for three-way responsibility between government, employers, and individual workers, sometimes bringing in unions and other stakeholders.

A lot of criticism was directed at cuts to adult and continuing education in the community, which have come back into the news recently. There was recognition that not all education and training is employment related.

Are we meeting the needs of the mature workforce? We are hindering older workers in making choices about workforce participation.”

This was a strong vote for life-long learning and participation by older workers.

Do older workers need special conditions for training?

The answers were mixed. Some respondents said no: that age alone should not be a factor; that the most important thing was an individual approach to learning. Technology was often mentioned.

“We must be careful not to alienate older workers with too much technology.”

“Generally older people have challenges around technology. They need accommodation and longer to learn, but it is not impossible.”

This suggests a different pace for courses; more one-to-one attention; small group work; discussion; courses spread over longer periods; and case studies attuned to personal experience. The respondents who were least in favour of retraining pointed out that many aspects of their work are not changing, in content or in the culture which surrounds them, e.g. in retailing. This latter view may be changing given the strong move to on-line shopping.

Payback to employers – Will employers invest in education and training for older workers if they can’t see them staying long enough for this to benefit the business financially?

Most of the employers I interviewed did not think there was a cut-off age beyond which it would not be worthwhile to provide such opportunities. In any case, even younger workers cannot be relied on to remain in the same job for long. Instead, they said it would depend on the individual abilities of the worker and what they could contribute.

“It’s an individual thing, some are atrophied at 50; some are marvellous at 70.”

Update from the OECD

These attitudes are confirmed by an OECD report The Future of Work, 2019, which concluded –

Strengthening adult learning is crucial to help workers successfully navigate a changing labour market. A major overhaul of adult learning programmes to increase their coverage and promote quality is essential to harness the benefits of the changing world of work.”

They note that training participation is lower among older adults than younger people and confirm the barriers they face to training participation, such as a lack of motivation, time, money or employer support. Policy options revolve around building a learning culture among firms and individuals.  Training needs to be of good quality and aligned to labour market needs. This requires adequate and sustainable funding, shared by stakeholders in line with the benefits that are received.

Longer working lives resulting from increases in retirement age/pension eligibility, adopted in many OECD countries, are expected to strengthen the willingness of firms to train older workers and encourage older workers to invest in their skills development. A worthy aspiration!


[1] I interviewed employers and representatives of public and private sector organisations about attitudes to older workers and factors which either encourage or discourage older people from staying in paid work. This was part of a project – Making Active Ageing a Reality – undertaken through the University of Waikato, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and published in 2014. Quotes in italics come from this report.

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Training and Re-training for Older Workers

Judith Davey
4/3/21 Updated from July 2016

Will the ageing of the population lead to labour and skill shortages and increasing recruitment problems? Almost everyone I spoke to in my research on workforce ageing in New Zealand agreed that it will[1]. So, then the question arises: Is training and re-training older workers a possible solution to skill shortages?

There was overwhelming agreement with this among employers, with some qualifications about the type of work involved and the willingness of older workers to undertake training.

“It depends on individual receptiveness and willingness. Some workers don’t want to do anything different.”

Older workers may have physical limitations and cannot continue heavy work, even if training is available. Some employers thought that mental ability may also be a problem when it came to IT training, but others contested this and said that older workers only needed appropriate encouragement. Many lack higher educational attainment, making further learning – getting back to the classroom – challenging. There were also reservations about the usefulness of formal courses, suggesting that re-training on the job was preferable. Given these considerations, some employers recommended training related to motivation rather than job content alone. Older workers need the self-confidence to demonstrate their value, marketability and desire to work, perhaps in non-traditional ways.

Older people have already got 80% through being at work and only need 20% to top up.”

As an example, a financial manager in a firm I was talking to was unwilling to go to an Institute of Management course on some new aspect of accounting. She lacked self-confidence and felt she would be seen as ignorant. In the end I said I would go with her and off we both went. It was soon clear who lacked the knowledge!

Who is responsible?

The candidates were the government, employers (sometimes through ITOs) and the workers themselves. Most respondents thought that government has a role to play, especially to provide information on needs and benefits; to identify and respond to gaps in skills; and to provide encouragement to employers to provide training. Many advocated a joint approach, suggesting:

Tax breaks for employers, training subsidies for all workers – encourage employers to take responsibility. We need a policy and practice framework with employers involved and subsidised”.

Some respondents called for three-way responsibility between government, employers, and individual workers, sometimes bringing in unions and other stakeholders.

A lot of criticism was directed at cuts to adult and continuing education in the community, which have come back into the news recently. There was recognition that not all education and training is employment related.

Are we meeting the needs of the mature workforce? We are hindering older workers in making choices about workforce participation.”

This was a strong vote for life-long learning and participation by older workers.

Do older workers need special conditions for training?

The answers were mixed. Some respondents said no: that age alone should not be a factor; that the most important thing was an individual approach to learning. Technology was often mentioned.

“We must be careful not to alienate older workers with too much technology.”

“Generally older people have challenges around technology. They need accommodation and longer to learn, but it is not impossible.”

This suggests a different pace for courses; more one-to-one attention; small group work; discussion; courses spread over longer periods; and case studies attuned to personal experience. The respondents who were least in favour of retraining pointed out that many aspects of their work are not changing, in content or in the culture which surrounds them, e.g. in retailing. This latter view may be changing given the strong move to on-line shopping.

Payback to employers – Will employers invest in education and training for older workers if they can’t see them staying long enough for this to benefit the business financially?

Most of the employers I interviewed did not think there was a cut-off age beyond which it would not be worthwhile to provide such opportunities. In any case, even younger workers cannot be relied on to remain in the same job for long. Instead, they said it would depend on the individual abilities of the worker and what they could contribute.

“It’s an individual thing, some are atrophied at 50; some are marvellous at 70.”

Update from the OECD

These attitudes are confirmed by an OECD report The Future of Work, 2019, which concluded –

Strengthening adult learning is crucial to help workers successfully navigate a changing labour market. A major overhaul of adult learning programmes to increase their coverage and promote quality is essential to harness the benefits of the changing world of work.”

They note that training participation is lower among older adults than younger people and confirm the barriers they face to training participation, such as a lack of motivation, time, money or employer support. Policy options revolve around building a learning culture among firms and individuals.  Training needs to be of good quality and aligned to labour market needs. This requires adequate and sustainable funding, shared by stakeholders in line with the benefits that are received.

Longer working lives resulting from increases in retirement age/pension eligibility, adopted in many OECD countries, are expected to strengthen the willingness of firms to train older workers and encourage older workers to invest in their skills development. A worthy aspiration!


[1] I interviewed employers and representatives of public and private sector organisations about attitudes to older workers and factors which either encourage or discourage older people from staying in paid work. This was part of a project – Making Active Ageing a Reality – undertaken through the University of Waikato, funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, and published in 2014. Quotes in italics come from this report.

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