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Older Australians challenging perceptions of ageism

From mastering the art of tap dance in your 80s, to competing in International tennis championships, some older Australians are refusing to let age or ability define them.

Feros Care's Tarnya Sim handing over the cheque to support 88 year old Margaret Fishe compete at the 2018 World Super Seniors Tennis Championship in Croatia (Source: Feros Care)
Feros Care's Tarnya Sim handing over the cheque to support 88 year old Margaret Fishe compete at the 2018 World Super Seniors Tennis Championship in Croatia (Source: Feros Care)

With continuous assumptions about human abilities as we age, Australia and the aged care industry are recognising that it’s important to celebrate seniors as they explore and undertake new challenges and experiences, while inspiring others to do the same.

One group that continues to challenge perceptions is run by Dawn Quick, an 86 year old tap dance teacher who loves supporting older women through their journey of dance.

Her tap dance group, ‘Dawn Quick and the Y Tappers’, is made up of women of all backgrounds who have come together to celebrate and embrace the form of dance.

One of these women is 73 year old Thelma, who dreamt of being a dancer her entire life.

“When I was very young we didn’t have television or movies in our village [in Greece]. Once a year they would bring a screen to show us different things, and one time they showed us Shirley Temple. I always dreamt to be a dancer and never danced in my life until now,” she says.

Maria, 74, is also grateful for Dawn’s class.

“I never got the opportunity to tap dance until I came to Dawn’s class. I’ve found it’s been very good for my feet...I’m type 2 diabetes and my left foot was going a bit strange...when I first started I couldn’t move it very well, but now it’s seems to have healed itself. I think it’s healed with the dancing and the movement.”

Celebrating the achievements of older Australians is at the core of Celebrate Ageing, a national program aimed to challenge ageism and encourage respect for older people.

Dr Catherine Barrett, founder of the program, says it’s important to celebrate the natural course of ageing.

“I had a sister who died when she was 18. It reminded me from an early age that life is a gift and ageing is a privilege...We live in such an ageist society it is really challenging to feel positive about it.”

“I started to acknowledge the achievements or expertise of older Australians because I thought that was respectful and ‘the right thing to do’. What I have discovered is how powerful the skills of older Australians are and I attribute the innovative nature of Celebrate Ageing’s work to the contributions of elders,” Dr Barrett says.

Aged care providers across the country also continue to celebrate the achievements of older Australians who strive for new experiences - and sometimes even old ones.

Margaret Fisher, 88, has just received a crucial donation to compete at the 2018 World Super Seniors Tennis Championship in Croatia, thanks to a $4,000 donation from aged care and disability service provider Feros Care.

Feros Care surprised Margaret during a tennis training session in Byron Bay.   

“I’ve been trying to fundraise and secure sponsors for quite a while now...I wasn’t sure what was happening but I soon realised it was the best news I could have received,” Margaret says.

This isn’t Margaret’s first championship, winning silver at the 2016 World Championships and gold in women’s and mixed doubles at the 2017 World Championships in Florida. She holds the title of number one in Australia for the 85-plus age bracket.

Feros Care Chief Executive Officer Jennene Buckley says Margaret is an inspiration to people of all ages.

“Margaret epitomises everything we believe in and promote to seniors - passion, enthusiasm and the willingness to take risks.”

“She knows it’s never too late to follow your dreams, so we wanted to make sure she had the means to do so,” Ms Buckley says.

Margaret competed in Wimbledon in 1953 but put down the racquet to raise a family, only to pick it up in her later years, now training five days a week.

“It’s not only kept me active but given me a sense of confidence that has opened up a whole new world of interests,” says Margaret.

Ms Buckley says that, while Margaret has gained confidence to pursue new opportunities, “unfortunately there are many social barriers that prevent seniors from accomplishing their goals. People’s attitudes towards the ageing population can be a mental barrier for many”.

“If we can change the attitude of the community, we can empower the older generation. We need others to believe in them, so that they find it easier to believe in themselves,” she says.

Both ‘Dawn Quick and the Y Tappers’ and Margaret are reminders that, even though ageing is inevitable, we shouldn’t let ageism shape our experiences nor be a barrier that stops us from pursuing our dreams.

“Internalised ageism can stop you living your life to the full. Ageing can be a time of knowing who you are, knowing what you want and going out and getting it. It can be a time of living life authentically - it can be what you want it to be,” says Dr Barrett.

And as Ms Buckley puts it, “be bold; be brave and take chances. Don’t be afraid of failure - you’ve already won by having a go, so anything more is a bonus”.

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