Are the elderly a burden?

Are the elderly a burden?

Photo: Are the elderly a burden?

Ageist attitudes are rife throughout the Australian population with older people often viewed as fragile, unproductive and a burden on society, according to new research.

The Deakin University report, Respect in an Ageing Society, was commissioned by aged care provider, Benetas, to examine the attitudes of society towards older people and what respect for older Australians means to them and the wider community.

Launched by the Federal Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot, in Melbourne yesterday, the report is the first Australian study to investigate respect for older people.

Research participants included members of generation X and Y, baby boomers, volunteers from residential care facilities, older people in residential care and older people living independently.

The report found changes in society, family dynamics and how Australians live their lives impacts how older people are respected and valued.

“The report found that factors including divorce, dual-career marriages, smaller families and time pressure all impact upon older people,” chief executive officer of Benetas, Sandra Hills says.

“Older Australians are often no longer consulted on family matters or issues and as a result, often find themselves excluded and lacking respect.

“This lack of respect is also partly due to Australia’s unique geographical dispersion of the population. In other countries generations of families live together under the one roof. In Australia families and friends are often scattered across the country.

“This leads to further exclusion and loneliness due to a breakdown in communication – particularly when older family members face issues using technology to maintain relationships.”

The report also points to the high earnings of young people as a factor in the changing nature of respect for older people. Young people have less reliance on family and the older generation and more freedom to pursue lives detached from their family.

In the report one generation Y research participant comments: “Maybe kids get money earlier from jobs and don’t feel older people are needed. Without the money they just feel like they don’t need the older generation.”

According to the report the older generation often expects respect to be given automatically while people in younger generations perceive that older Australians need to earn respect.

“I think that they just expect to be given respect because of their age. Sometimes I don’t agree with that because I don’t know them and I don’t know whether they have earned respect,” said a generation Y member.

Ms Hills says the Respect in an Ageing Society report highlights the need for governments, business and the community to direct greater attention to creating a society that respects and values older people.

“Respect is a key component of a good quality of life for all Australians – and in particular, our older generation,” Ms Hills says.

“With our ageing population the benefits of a healthy and respected older population for the nation are clear. Healthy older people are likely to stay in the workforce for longer. Healthy older Australians will enjoy retirement with fewer health care needs, disease and disability.

“Benetas believes the older generation needs to be more visible in society to gain respect. Active media and public awareness campaigns were identified in our research as important components to changing the public’s perception of older Australians.

“Intergenerational initiatives focusing on sharing the skills, knowledge and experience of older people are also key to opening pathways for mutual respect,” Ms Hills says.

Associate Professor David Mellor from Deakin University explains, “Respect is a key factor that determines quality of life for older people.

“Older people who are respected tend to have greater life satisfaction, including a sense of usefulness and involvement with their family, community and significant others.

“Our study revealed themes of ageism in today’s society but it also identifies opportunities for older people to create and gain respect. The challenge now is how to encourage older people to become more involved in activities and life in their community.”