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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Mixed age workforces – are they a good thing?

One of the consequences of older people staying longer in paid work is that workforces are more likely to be comprised of people of different ages. Are mixed-age workforces a good or a bad thing for business and what views do employers hold on this? Research among New Zealand employers produced an extremely high response that mixed-age workforces are good for business and this applied to organisations of different sizes and in different areas of the economy.[1]

 Advantages of a mixed age workforce

The most frequently quoted advantage was the mix of experience and skill levels, along with the mix of stability and initiative (and technical knowledge) which a mixed age workforce can provide. Employers interviewed saw mixed age workforces as a blend of “loyalty and vibrancy”, as an opportunity for old and young to share experiences and learn from each other. This gives a wider range of perspectives in the work of the organisation and reflects the diversity of society as a whole.

An advantage is that older workers are able to mentor younger workers.
(It provides) a mix of knowledge and skills. Younger staff motivate older staff to increase learning to stay ahead. Older staff become resources and mentors to younger staff.

There are also advantages from the customer relations perspective.
Allows us to match clients and their needs with people that understand them/are best suited to working with them.
Several employees mentioned the steadying influence of older workers as opposed to the emotional volatility of the young.
Seniors have a calming influence and provide stability. They can help younger workers, especially those who have failed school. Older workers make a difference by being there and just saying “this is how we do things”.

Only a few of the employers brought up any drawbacks to mixed age workforces. These centered mainly on possible difficulties arising from the differing attitudes of Gen Y and Gen X, as against the baby-boomers and older people. Younger people tend to be more au fait with new technology and older people may resent this. On their part, younger workers may see their older colleagues as a barrier to their promotion – a fear that could increase the longer that older workers stay on. However, any potential drawbacks, suggested the employers, could be managed with better communication, better consultation, and flexibility in work roles.

I was reminded of the findings of my research when I read the Centre for Ageing Better’s work chapter in their recent report The State of Ageing 2020. [2] Their question, thinking about the post-covid world, was Could older and younger workers working together hold the key to the economic recovery?

Quoting OECD analysis, their conclusion was that mixed age workforces could be a key contributor as firms seek to boost their productivity. They found that, not only are older workers just as productive at work as any other age group, but also that. having older workers in a team is associated with increased productivity of co-workers around them, particularly younger colleagues.
The effects of having people over 50 in the workforce are to boost productivity through their lower job turnover, greater management experience and greater general work experience. Greater productivity gains mean higher wages for everyone. Rather than being in competition, different age groups working together can help both businesses and individuals.

Given these advantages, the report poses another question – Are individuals, employers and the economy ready to embrace multigenerational teams? They conclude that the benefits depend on an environment which supports people to stay in work for longer.

Dr Judith. A Davey

[1] Research I carried out with the help of the Institute of Management, published by the Institute of Policy Studies in 2008 – Workforce Ageing – An issue for Employers. Quotes in italics are from interviews associated with this project.

[2] Centre for Ageing Better, London, 2020.

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Preparing for Later Life: a glaring gap in lifelong learning provision

Posted on November 17, 2013by Age Concern New Zealand ‘on research’

People embarking on marriage and parenthood and other life events can go to courses to help them through the transition, but where can they go for learning on the transition to later life – the life stage formerly known as “retirement? The concept of “retirement” is changing. For many people the process is no longer a “cliff edge” transition from full-time work to full-time leisure. It is becoming much more of a transitional stage, which may involve gradual movement out of the workforce, during which lives consist of different mixes of paid and unpaid work, voluntary and caring work, and leisure.

People are making the shift from the workforce into full retirement over what may be more than a decade and the experience is likely to be different for everyone. The common factor is that people are moving into later life and this entails a whole range of changes, well beyond the sphere of paid work.
As is the case for many life transitions, planning can ease the process, helping people to prepare for change.  Education (in its broadest sense) can provide the information necessary to plan, to cope with all aspects of transition and to achieve successful evolution into the next stage.

So what “pre-retirement” education is available now? It seems that courses are almost totally focused on financial preparation, except for a very few, run by employers, and one-to-one life coaching. I believe there is an opportunity for adult educators to fill this gap and thus for people, and the baby boom generation in particular, to be better informed about a crucial stage of life, about which there are so many fears and misconceptions.
Why is this important? Well, the period between leaving the workforce and death used to be about 5 years on average, now it is very often over 20 years. Life expectancy at age 65 is 18 years for men (average age at death 83) and for women 20.6 years (average age at death 86.6).

Financial security in later life is indeed crucial, but pre-retirement education, which can contribute meaningfully to adjustment to later life and positive ageing, must have a wider brief. Other essential topics include health and fitness, housing and lifestyle, relationships and family, options for paid and unpaid work (including flexible working options), legal issues and personal security.

Few New Zealand employers offer any type of pre-retirement education. Where they do, this is likely to be those with larger staff numbers in the “white collar” sectors. Their motives tend to be centred around being a good employer – “doing the right thing” by their workers. Employers’ reasons for not offering pre-retirement education are that they are too small, that they could not afford it, they do not see any advantage to themselves as employers, or that it is not their responsibility, but that of the government or the individual.

The courses are often seen as part of policies for staff welfare in general, like stress and crisis management and health checks.  They are rarely seen as contributing to growth or productivity. Given an ageing workforce, and the prospects of skill and labour shortages in the future, some employers are beginning to recognise the need to retain valued older workers rather than encouraging them to retire. Pre-retirement education can be a tool for staff retention, to explore options to continue working, with flexible conditions, and to contribute to succession planning.

Workforce-based pre-retirement education may be sparse, but there is even less available to the public in general, through the usual adult education sources. If people wish to prepare themselves for later life in New Zealand, they are dependent on what they can find in libraries, bookshops and on the internet. Sorted.co.nz is a great resource, but, as I said, the need is wider than financial preparation.

Where pre-retirement courses have been evaluated by the participants, immediate levels of satisfaction have usually been good.  But little is known about their long-term outcomes. Do existing courses lead to a better adjustment to retirement, more successful ageing and better quality of life in old age? At present we do not know. But the potential benefits of pre-retirement education/preparation for later life are extensive, including:

  • Understanding of the processes of normal ageing, the myths and the realities.
  • Better adaptation to change in personal life as we age – facing both positive and negative life changes, learning about personal relationships and how to make them better, exploring our roles as parents, grand-parents (even great-grand-parents) and partners and how these may be changing.
  • Helping older people to care for themselves and preventing illness, promoting self-help, building coping skills and self-esteem.
  • How to make the best use of spare time to promote wellbeing, to develop networks and contacts with others; using skills to promote personal satisfaction and find increased meaning in life.
  • In community and civic life, how to become effective and participative members of the community, including being involved in planning and governance, based on lifetime experiences and wisdom.

How can we fill the gap?

Dr Judith A. Davey

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More Older People will be renters – A trend we cannot ignore

Judith Davey

11/02/21 updated from 20/2/18

Hardly a day goes by without a headline relating to the “housing crisis” – the situation of first home buyers struggling to accumulate a deposit as house prices soar; renters having to cope with increased costs and accommodation shortages.

The rate of home ownership in New Zealand is the lowest it has been in 70 years, dropping from a peak of 73.5% of households in the 1990s to 64.5% in 2018. And the rate is projected to fall even further in the future.

Even though home ownership is higher for older people, they are especially vulnerable if their housing tenure is insecure and if their housing is cold and damp. Renters cannot easily adapt or modify their housing to deal with declining health and reduced mobility. Renters are forced to move more often than owners, especially if they have private sector landlords and tenure conditions are changed. Many surveys have shown that renting in New Zealand is associated with social and economic deprivation. It is the poorer people in any age group who are more likely to be renters.

Some of this will change due to the changing Tenancy Laws. From 11 February 2021, multiple changes to tenancy legislation will take effect. The changes will cover: Security of rental tenure, Changes for fixed-term tenancies, Making minor changes, Prohibitions on rental bidding, Fibre broadband, Privacy and access to justice, Assignment of tenancies, Landlord records, Enforcement measures being strengthened and Changes to Tenancy Tribunal jurisdiction.

The implicit assumption has always been that NZ Superannuation will be sufficient to support a basic lifestyle provided that the recipients are homeowners and have paid off their mortgages by the time they reach the age of eligibility. So falling home ownership and increased renting among older people should be a cause for concern.

In 2008 a report on trends in renting by older people was prepared for the Department of Building and Housing. 1 Its findings have been updated where possible.

· The proportion of people aged 65 years or older living in rented accommodation increased only slightly from 2001 to 2013 – 24% to 26%. This is a lower percentage than for the total population at present (35.5% renters).

· Two-thirds of older renters have private landlords, with the rest renting from central government (20%) or local authorities (15%).

· The number of older households renting from private landlords has been increasing. So this is the dominant tenure type for renters aged 65 plus.

· Nearly two-thirds of older renters’ households consist of one person only and the majority of these are composed by women.

Projections

However, based on the 2008 report the projections to 2051 are concerning.

· By 2051 the number of households with a reference person 65 years or older is projected to increase to 820,000, of which 169,000 are likely to be living in rented accommodation (21%).

· Between 2006 and 2051, the number of older renter households in the 65 to 74 age group is projected to more than double. In the 75 to 84 age group it will nearly triple. In the 85 and over age group numbers will grow nearly nine-fold, from 6,670 to 53,885.

· Numbers renting from private landlords will grow from 34,970 in 2006 to 112,260. Those renting from central government will increase by about the same amount, from 10,865 to 40,450. Renting from local authorities is projected to nearly double, to 16,130 households in in 2051.

These figures call for policies to increase the supply of affordable rental housing designed with older households in mind, particularly single (and female) tenants. Can the private sector be relied upon to do this? Concerns are frequently expressed about the quality of housing in this sector, with calls for independent “warrants of fitness.”.

In the past, local authorities received subsidies and low interest housing loans from central government, but both central and local government public rental stocks have been cut and there is considerable concern about pensioner housing rent increases and sales.

It seems there is a role for innovative private and public rental developments, with central and local government, private sector and ‘third sector’ (i.e. voluntary organisation) landlords working together.

Given growing numbers of very frail and disabled older people, rental housing providers of whatever sort need to recognise the need for home-based services and investment in appropriately designed housing, and also that housing needs interact closely with care needs. This means better integration of social support, health care and housing, and changing expectations, values and standards concerning the quality and appropriateness of housing. Innovative approaches to planning and design and increased engagement of users in the development of housing models and advocacy services are required for all sectors of the housing market. It is vital that the needs of renters are not obscured by the needs of majority homeowners and efforts to increase homeownership.

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Forgetfulness: Normal Ageing or early Dementia?

29 January 2021
Written by Dr Doug Wilson

Originally published on www.rymanhealthcare.co.nz

A few months back I visited someone in Mangakino, a small New Zealand central North Island town, originally built for the workers who were constructing the huge hydro dam of the same name. I had visited there as a kid to see the massive building works.

When I returned home, a drive of around 40 minutes, my wife enquired where I had been. I knew where I had been in crisp detail, but not the name of the town. Whakamaru was the next town and that I remembered well from my schoolboy visit over 60 years ago. But Mangakino had taken fright and raced away from my finely tuned neurones. “Come back,” I wanted to shout. But I could only bleat: “It’s slipped my mind. I’ll remember later.” Simple solution: I’ll google it, or least the neighbouring dam: Whakamaru. Sure enough, there on the map nearby was Mangakino. Problem solved. Nope. Not solved at all. After I closed the Google screen I called out to my wife: “It was XXXX?” The pesky word remained absent, absent without leave I might add, and the Google jog had gone with it. I began to think that I’d better check in to a dementia unit as I was losing it, and what did I need to take with me?

Common sense prevailed as I felt on top of stuff otherwise. So I wrote the word Mangakino on a card and placed it beside the phone and computer. It took three days for that pesky neurone either to wake up, or pass the name to an underworked neighbour. And it did, and now I am Mangakino educated and friendly.

I don’t have dementia!

So occasional, or even common trouble with memory recall is a feature of normal ageing. When dementia arrives, at first with isolated episodes of abnormal or even bizarre behaviour, sudden mood changes, or increasing patches of forgetfulness or lack of recognition of people they know well, or increasing confusion, then it is time for action. Daily skills begin to fade; individuals can struggle with conversation; judgment becomes unreliable; they may wander without knowing where they are, and their personality can alter materially. It is time for a proper medical assessment, to be sure that the issue is dementia, as in many instances it is something else. You don’t want to get it wrong! Self-diagnosis is a wobbly zone and can prematurely label a spouse or loved one with a disturbing diagnosis that it is not.

Sometimes the individual is reacting adversely to medication; drug doses for older subjects are commonly too high. Or their thyroid gland is out of kilter, or there are disturbances of their liver or kidney. Type II diabetes can induce changes suggestive of dementia, as can mini strokes. Too much alcohol in the elderly is a common disrupter of behaviour and memory. Depression and anxiety can over-run the governors of normal behaviour. A bladder, or even deep skin infection may tip behaviours off balance and individuals can appear confused. Low levels of vitamin B12 are a common cause of abnormal behaviour and personality in older people.

So find the disorders that are not dementia and get them treated. Missing a masquerading condition that is readily identified and treated is a major lost opportunity to discard the dementia label and return life to its rightful path. There are a range of tests for dementia that doctors and psychology professionals use to cement the diagnosis.

Although there are different forms of dementia, Alzheimer’s being the most common, there are many others, such as dementia with Lewy bodies, the affliction that targeted Robin Williams and triggered major behavioural crises and hallucinations. However, with a few differences, the long term course is rather common for all causes of dementia, with slow decline, as the individual becomes withdrawn and their very sense of self becomes dragged towards the dementia realm. Even watching themselves in a mirror many see a stranger looking back at them.

What to do? Is there a cure or a treatment? There has to be, as so many conditions, even cancer, are benefitting from new treatments these days. At present there is no treatment that addresses the underlying disease process. It is essential for families, partners and spouses, once the diagnosis is certain, that they learn to accept the predictable decline in the patient, and their inevitable loss of the individual they have known, as they are replaced by a slow moving and thinking stranger who occupies their body.

There are short term drugs: anticholinesterase drugs such as Aricept or Exelone which can restore some memory and initiative and decrease anxiety. But these benefits tend to fade over 12 months. At the present time, despite billons of dollars spent on massive research programs, nothing has appeared to arrest or reverse this condition. And nothing will for a few years. This also means that occasional trials of unique interventions delivered by very caring relatives, describing very positive outcomes, are unlikely to be transferable or to move the general treatment world of dementia very far or be sustainable.

Not all is depressing. Many people with dementia are surprisingly happy with their lot and have a jolly disposition. Perhaps in some primitive way they see themselves getting away with outrageous things, they might long have wished to do. A pattern of exercise is very helpful to reduce the rate of decline into frailty and disability. At the same time people’s susceptibility to infection and physical decline can be accelerated if their nutrition is ignored, and they benefit from positively monitored dietary guidance. There are wide differences in the rate of decline as the disease plods its path rapidly in some, and slowly over some years in others. Faster decline is more common in those where the disease asserted itself at a younger age. Interaction with family and carers will assist the patient’s mood, and to some extent their rate of decline.

About the Author

Dr Doug Wilson is a physician and medical academic as well as a writer.

For the past 30 years he has monitored the scientific literature as it relates to ageing, and the conditions that may interrupt your enjoyment of that process. His background as a physician, a scientist, and a developer of new drugs, he’s well placed to distil clear messages from the huge forests of data that exist and confuse.

Doug’s aim is to cut through the fads and fallacies to concentrate on the core issues and the physiological and psychological reasons behind them.

Armed with this information, we can plan for our older years to be golden years, not tarnished, confused or stressed years.

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