Celebrating the International Day of the Older Person

Senior Helpers Master Franchisor, Leonie Williams

I sometimes smile when I think of the adventures I have had in my life. I have had opportunities and experiences, many of these occurring as a result of getting out there and having a go. I am the franchisor for Senior Helpers in Australia, and I must also be the oldest Master Franchisor in Australia.

But I was not always a franchisor or franchisee. I was a late bloomer! I was not in the class of high achievers during my school years and it was only after I had plodded my way through a nursing program and left Australia for experience in the USA that I realised my own potential.

Returning to Australia 5 years later, I took on higher education and at the age of 49, after mastering a Diploma, Degree, and a Masters of Education, I completed my PhD. You see, I didn’t know what I really wanted to do with my life until I retired in 2013 and opened an in home care Franchise. Four years later I was asked to take over as the Australian franchisor for Senior Helpers in Australia.

Finding the right career path later in life

I guess the moral to this story is that I did not really know where I fitted or where my skills were best placed until I retired and opened up my own business at the age of 63. I attended a reunion of my nursing school buddies 3 years ago and I was the only one still working. They looked at me with amazement but I do not think I am amazing. I still have a lot to learn, to teach, to give and share. I am sure I am not alone as an older person finally finding their place in the world in their more senior years.

Looking internationally to the United Nations, it is clear that they were slow to take a position on the health and welfare of older persons. In 1991, they adopted the United Nations Principles for Older Persons. These 18 principles relate to areas of independence, participation, care, self-fulfilment and dignity. Wonderful! Really? These principles are laudable, but older persons still face worldwide age discrimination in a number of areas, including employment.

Not all older persons want to retire gracefully (or disgracefully) at the age of 65 years. Many would like to continue to contribute to their community either for payment or as a volunteer. However, pressures of global economies and varying security of investments (if the person was able to save for their latter years), a good number of older adults look to re-enter the workplace by necessity rather than for self-fulfilment, but are faced with age prejudice.

The UN Plan of Action suggests that older persons should have the right to work and that employment should be based on the ability to do the work, rather than chronological age.

Understanding and acknowledging the cost of ageism

In order for older persons to be considered for employment or re-employment, an older person needs to be seen as a person of value in their community and society in general. Overarching ageism can preclude any older person from employment, even if they have the skills and ability to perform the roles required.

A 2021 study conducted by the Australian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) What’s age go to do with it? endeavoured to explore Australian attitudes and understanding of ageism age discrimination. It is unsurprising that the data identified that Australians are generally aware of racial and gender discrimination, but ageism was a less understood concept.

Interestingly, ageism, according to the data identified by the AHRC costs our economy billions of dollars in reduced workforce participation, and organisations failed to identify the skills and capabilities of older employees.

Perhaps one of the most poignant situations this year was the attention paid to Australian Olympian, Andrew Hoy. The attention was not on his eighth Olympics, or the Silver and Bronze Medals achieved in Tokyo, it was his age. According to Hoy, age was never a barrier until this overshadowed his accomplishments in Tokyo.

Celebrating life at every age

Every year, Australia celebrates persons of achievement who are recognised as Senior Australian of the Year, and their lifetime contributions are celebrated nationally. I do not in any way intend to minimise the contributions of these wonderful Australians, but it seems to me that the lifetime contributions are, in the main, for the younger generations: Indigenous education, cultural reconciliation through education (2021), Pre-term birth and the reduction of disabilities (2020), Paediatrics and reduction in child abuse (2019) and Global food security in a changing environment (2018).

Where is the recognition for those who advocate for and work tirelessly to improve the national or global environments in which older persons can thrive? Are there no notable Australians working for the older generation?

Try to find a charity fund-raising for older persons. An impossible feat. There is a brilliant charity in the US called Second Wind Dreams. They fundraise to grant wishes to older Americans. What a great opportunity to assist older persons realise their dreams and wishes – to sit on a horse again, to wriggle their toes in the sand at the beach one last time, to sky-dive! Or just to go shopping at a favourite retail store. Of course COVID has curbed many older adults from leaving their homes, but freedoms are on the horizon!

I put out the challenge to make a difference for an older person this month (and more than one if you would not mind!). In the shops, look at us and speak to us, not our daughters or sons or companions (yes, this is happening to me now and I manage more than 1 business of my own!).

When you ask us a question, wait for the answer – it is not that we did not hear you, it is just that we measure our responses. Yes, we forget our PIN numbers every now and again – but I am sure there are many people in their 20’s who can’t remember where they left their car keys on occasion! We may have lived a good number of years, but there are many of us who are not ready to hang up our boots for slippers yet.

As Andrew Hoy expressed – age is just a number.

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