Stereotyping of old age can do real harm in the real world, says Lynne Segal, the author of “Out of Time: The Pleasures and the Perils of Ageing” (2013). She says that the biggest problem for many older people is “ageism, rather than the process of aging itself.”

Researchers also found the elderly report experiencing fewer of the benefits that younger adults expect old age to bring (such as more time for travelling around Australia and doing world cruises, hobbies, or volunteer work).

The eighty-two-year-old British novelist Penelope Lively writes that her demographic has “nothing much in common except the accretion of years, a historical context, and a generous range of ailments.”

It was difficult to find up to date numbers in Australia or anywhere for that matter but in the US despite a rapidly growing elderly population, the number of certified geriatricians fell by a third between 1998 and 2004. Partly, this has to do with money—incomes in geriatrics and adult primary care are among the lowest in medicine. And partly because most doctors don’t like taking care of the elderly.

Professor Gerard Byrne, head of psychiatry at the University of Queensland and of the older persons' mental health service at the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital, agreed that the aged care system was in dire need of a “fix”.

“GPs are very busy and they don’t need this sort of work unless it is funded adequately, which it’s not. It’s not the fault of the aged care facilities or the GPs. It’s the structural reality of the current funding system”, he said.

“This is about how we feel about the elderly. We love the care of children, and that’s appropriate, but when it comes to [funding] the elderly, we hit trouble.”

Several years ago, researchers in St. Paul, Minnesota, identified five hundred and sixty-eight men and women over the age of seventy who were living independently but were at high risk of becoming disabled because of chronic health problems, recent illness, or cognitive changes. With their permission, the researchers randomly assigned half of them to see a team of geriatric specialists. The others were asked to see their usual physician, who was notified of their high-risk status. Within eighteen months, ten per cent of the patients in both groups had died. But the patients who had seen a geriatrics team were a third less likely to become disabled and half as likely to develop depression. They were forty per cent less likely to require home health services.

Back to Index