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The old and the restless

Australia’s Baby Boomers are fuelling an ageing-well revolution set to reshape how over-50s live in the 21st century; policy has a job to keep up.
By Murray Gillin and Lois Hazelton

Patricia Edgar, writing in The Age, recently stated in her discussion of ageing and defining old that “we are still bogged down in the perception that 50 is the beginning of old age. South Australia’s Ageing Plan has been based on interviews with Australians over 50. At that age, we are entering ‘the second half of life’, not heading for the scrap heap. So by treating this stage as a period of obsolescence, we are creating a non-existent problem and undermining a resource [that] could have significant benefit for society.”

Liberated by wealth, health and technology, the so-called Boomers are forcing a shift in traditional attitudes towards the older generations as they live life on their own terms, and as Bernard Salt wrote last April, “We are about to be swamped by an inconvenient demographic truth: baby boomers are flooding into retirement and they intend hanging around there for years to come. The inconvenient truth is that our society generally, and our tax base more specifically, is ill-prepared for an avalanche of older Australians.”

They are pushing against the boundaries set by their own parents and society in general as they travel, work, dress and socialise in ways that would previously have been the preserve of much younger people.

The School of Nursing and the Entrepreneurship Commercialisation Innovation Centre (ECIC) at the University of Adelaide, under professors Alison Kitson and Noel Lindsay, are hosting a think tank to explore the expectations of the Boomer generation in achieving an active, productive and healthy lifestyle.

Opportunities for innovation in ageing well and aged care are driven by large, complex problems. Perhaps we can be so bold as to call ageing and the associated social concerns “wicked problems”. Such problems can be characterised as malign, vicious, tricky and aggressive. Ageing well for the population and consequent care of the elderly is an excellent example of a wicked problem: individuals as they age have always been concerned about the who, what, where, why and how of their future. Families and significant others have become increasingly concerned with modifiable factors and innovations that contribute to ageing well, independence for people older than 65 in the community, and the quality and availability of aged-care services at all levels. But other factors, such as community culture, genetics, gender, economic determinants (income, social protection, work), and innovative culture will have a potential impact on healthy ageing as well.

There are close to 2 million Australians over the age of 70, and the number is set to double in the next 20 years. Baby Boomers represent one-quarter of the Australian population. Based on ABS statistics, in South Australia in 2013 there were 418,934 Boomers (aged 48–67), constituting about 25 per cent of the state’s population (1.67 million). Notable South Australians in the Boomer generation are many, and are represented in business, politics, service, health, science and sporting interests. Whatever pensions, concessions, benefits, retirement housing and physical and/or social infrastructure that was required to accommodate 3.2 million prospective retirees from the mid-90s onwards will have to be upped by 66 per cent during the next 20 years to accommodate the arrival of the Baby Boomers into retirement,” Salt wrote.

Such implications for policy, resources and services in the state of South Australia, and a generation that has different expectations of how to live the second half of their lives, compared with the present group, are frightening and loom large in vision and leadership. This situation needs to be presented, explored and discussed to find a collective way forward (in the spirit of opportunity, innovation and achieving value) to achieve a collective understanding of needed actions and to avoid the typical silo approach to ageing well in our community.

Such an opportunity is to be presented at the Ageing Well Think Tank and Innovation Collaborative, November 9–11, 2015, with a keynote address by professor Patricia McDougall from Indiana University in the US, who has commented:

“It is a second chance to those fortunate enough to see the opportunity. Just as the youth of today have turned the meaning of the word ‘wicked’ on its head and use [it] to refer to something that is awesome or extremely positive, it is time for Boomers and the whole of society to view the aging of Boomers through an entrepreneurial lens and see the tremendous infusion of talent that is becoming available to make the world a better place.”

The think tank brings together leaders, practitioners, consumers, academics and policymakers to evaluate identified opportunities that embrace and promote healthy ageing, independent living or resident-centred care in the community.

Adjunct professor Murray Gillin is from the University of Adelaide School of Nursing and the Entrepreneurship, Commercialisation and Innovation Centre (ECIC).

Dr Lois Hazelton is a visiting research fellow at the School of Nursing, University of Adelaide, and ECIC.



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