From left: Age Discrimination Commissioner Dr Kay Patterson, The Benevolent Society CEO Jo Toohey and social commentator Jane Caro, all of whom spoke at Thursday’s research launch

Fears about ageing prevent people from ageing well, but those fears are based on falsehoods, according to research released this week.

Launched at an event in Sydney yesterday, the research will inform a national long-term and multi-stakeholder advocacy campaign tackling ageism and its impacts.

Commissioned by The Benevolent Society, a not-for-profit organisation providing aged, disability and family support services, and undertaken by Urbis, The Drivers of Ageism aimed to discover what made people fear ageing and older people.

The Benevolent Society’s executive director of strategic engagement, research and advocacy, Dr Kirsty Nowlan said society incorrectly perceived older people as frail, less involved in life, confused and non-productive.

“Ageism is a problem in Australia but we can do something about it,” Dr Nowlan told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Kirsty Nowlan

Ageism is based on a series of misconceptions and on a lack of understanding of fundamental things, she said.

“People assume that ageing involves a process of inevitable decline in both physical and cognitive health but 65 per cent of over 65s rate their health as good or excellent so there is a disconnect there,” Dr Nowlan said.

“The other element is that at the moment people are basing their perception of what ageing will be like on their individual experiences.”

If someone has seen a relative age well, they think ageing well is possible but if they have seen an uglier process they see ageing as a problem, she said.

“You add that with the media portrayal and lack of portrayal of older people with a public discourse, which is all about decay, decline and burden and you get a bad outcome.”

However, she said most of these bad outcomes were shiftable, with the findings indicating 80 per cent of people would like to see those norms moved.

Call for a commonwealth minister for seniors

To address the issue, The Benevolent Society is calling for “a radically different conversation about ageing” and gathering likeminded individuals and organisations to pursue the conversation together, Dr Nowlan said.

It is part of a major 10-year multi-stakeholder campaign the organisation is building called EveryAGE Counts, which aims to address the social and policy impacts of ageism.

“We’ll want to drive new conversations and a national agenda for older Australians, including a federal minister for older Australians,” she said.

The research study included focus groups of older and younger members, a national online survey of 1,400 people, a literature review on the drivers of ageist attitudes and an analysis of past social campaigns to drive attitude and behaviour change.

Key findings from the research are available here and the full report is available here.

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  1. This campaign will achieve nothing same as all the other campaigns that have gone before.

    Business, governments and the elites of society do not give a rats ….. about the aged,

    unemployed homeless and pensioners or anybody on welfare. Governments especially the

    Liberals demonise and reduce help to the aged and others at every opportunity.

  2. Dear Jo Toohey CEO Personal Assistian,

    Today on radio 2gb ageism was discussed .. would you please advise the correct Webb address .. I’m interested in this subject,
    Kind regards,
    Suzanne Jones

  3. Continuation of my previous e-mail ..
    During my working life and worked only for same large Australian company .. Never experienced being female and nor age, in later years.
    However, it’s since I’ve retired, yes, I’m a baby boomer .. I’m tired of hearing that we are such an impact on ………. etc., etc.,
    However, amoung our friends all being same age, though I do have a couple of year on them.
    We are all or going to be fully funded retirees .. Because in our younger years, we did save for the future. (My husband is 67 in March still fully employed and holds a management position (with almost 45 yrs of service same employer) .. and is respected without regardless of his age.
    Thank you for taking up your time …. Regards Suzanne Jones.

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