Ditching old stereotypes

"We are in a situation where everybody wants to live a long time but not many people want to grow old." (Professor Simon Biggs, Melbourne University, in evidence to State Parliament's Victorian seniors inquiry)

"We are in a situation where everybody wants to live a long time but not many people want to grow old." (Professor Simon Biggs, Melbourne University, in evidence to State Parliament's Victorian seniors inquiry)

The report by the family and community development committee captured the growing awareness that growing older is much more than a matter of numbers, and that, like the rest of society, older people are diverse and not a homogenous group.

The committee grappled with the tension between making sure older people remained engaged and relevant and the barriers society puts in the way. It advocated a rethink of approaches to longevity and how to achieve an age-friendly Victoria.

The inquiry, which handed down its findings last year, examined the vast contribution of older people, but also noted that they faced "widespread and entrenched ageism in society that manifests in explicit and implicit ways".

Such attitudes were broad, far-reaching, and deeply embedded in society, perpetuated by the idolisation of youthful appearance and vitality, assumptions and stereotypes, the committee heard.

While ageism in the workplace received the most attention, it also extended to areas such as access to education, accommodation and services.

The sense of being "invisible" was strong. "We hear frequently from our members that when you are 60 you start thinking you are becoming invisible, when you are 70 you begin to believe you are becoming invisible and by the time you are 80 you really are invisible," National Seniors Australia told the inquiry.

"Societal attitudes to ageing are still entrenched in an expectation that older people are less with it, less capable, less attractive, less useful, and less desirable," Uniting Aged Care said in its submission.

VincentCare told how the attitudes were reflected in daily life. Older people felt they were "no longer respected as people or even valued customers" by public servants and banks, utilities providers and shops.

A consistent message was that to foster the participation of older people in Victoria, more must be done to challenge perceptions of ageing.

The inquiry heard that older people are frequently perceived as frail, slow, dependent and unproductive. "The reality, however, is generally the reverse."

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