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Longevity: The alternative perspective and impact on ageing

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Catholic Healthcare was delighted to hold its first Insight Exchange thought leadership event for 2020 in Brisbane recently.

Guest speaker Professor Laurie Buys, Director of the Healthy Ageing Initiative from the Faculty of Health and Behavioural Sciences at the University of Queensland presented on Longevity: The alternative perspective and impact of ageing. Professor Buys’ views about ageing were thought provoking and we share some of her insights below.

Australia has experienced a demographic shift where life expectancy will increase – Australians have a 30-year longevity bonus. According to Buys, we didn’t see it coming. Longevity will be one of the greatest drivers of innovation in the next 100 years. Our challenge is how do we best leverage these extra 30 years of life?

The assumptions our society has about how we view different age groups include:

  • Children are dependent, but are our future
  • 15-64 year olds are productive members of society
  • 65+ are dependent but aren’t our future

Buys conducted a number of research projects, including a four-day online community forum to explore the everyday experiences of people aged over 50 years. This was to gain insight into how peoples perceive their living environment, personal wellness and community connectedness.

A hundred people aged 50 to 94 years participated from urban, suburban, regional and rural locations across Australia and from varying socio-economic backgrounds.

Findings revealed:

  • the importance of an occupation (paid/pro-bono or volunteering)
  • work/life balance throughout life
  • a holiday is just that… a holiday
  • valued and reciprocal relationships
  • the significance of a multigenerational community

Her studies also showed that older adults are talking about life whilst the health and aged care sector are talking about care.

Buys maintains that remaining relevant and of value is important to wellbeing. She says we need to care because ‘Let us care for you’ translates to ‘You are no longer capable or productive, you are no longer of value’.

On the topic of retirement, Buys says the traditional meaning of retirement is ‘… withdrawing, or leaving…’ (dictionary.com), and this definition is in line with ‘disengagement theory’, an early ageing theory that argues that withdrawing from meaningful roles in society is natural and acceptable. Further, she says the community’s perception of retirement living, aged care and the ‘care’ industry is directly in-line with the traditional definition of retirement and disengagement, that is, withdrawal, end of the line and death. The result is that society is creating and facilitating ‘withdrawal’.

Again, Buys emphasises that we did not see longevity coming. We are prepared for people to be sick and old but we are not prepared for healthy, active and engaged older people.

Buys concludes that age tells us about a person’s year of birth – nothing else, and the future ‘older people’ will be very different to the present ‘older people’. Assuming inactivity of older people breeds inactivity. Buys says the key is, we need to change our thinking and current mindset from ageing to longevity. We need to leverage longevity – live, learn, work, play. We must change our approach from health and care to participation and support. After all, we are all Australia’s future. 

Pictured are (l-r) Beth Kitoli, Residential Manager, Villa Maria Centre Fortitude Valley in Brasbane, Professor Laurie Buys, and Nicola Rosenthal, Regional Manager, Home Care, Central Coast