The Weekend Australian - Review - - Lifelines - Jane Fraser

IAM a keen ad­mirer of OPSO — Older Peo­ple Speak­ing Out — an or­gan­i­sa­tion de­voted to pro­mot­ing healthy age­ing and bent on those in their 60s hav­ing their own choice when it comes to how they are go­ing to spend the next stage of their lives.

No mat­ter how ir­ri­tated I get about crowds at the sta­tion when I’m get­ting the train to the of­fice, I know I am ex­tremely lucky to have the of­fice to go to. Much as I love my four grand­chil­dren, I do not wish to spend my re­main­ing time go­ing bats: it is ter­ri­bly dif­fi­cult to com­mu­ni­cate with tod­dlers, which is what I’d find my­self do­ing, and I’m far hap­pier hav­ing a good (and sober) lunch or cof­fee with old friends dur­ing a break in my of­fice hours.

A friend of mine — still in her 60s — told me the other day she was look­ing for­ward im­mensely to mov­ing into a re­tire­ment vil­lage (which is not quite the same thing as an aged-care home). She pointed out her hus­band had died, she had no chil­dren and was fright­fully scared she’d die dur­ing the night and no one would find her body for weeks. Well, if you’re dead you’re dead, but it’s not nice for those who come across you.

There seems very lit­tle op­ti­mism that we can ever again rely on the ex­tended fam­ily as a way of life. In the olden days se­niors lived side by side with their chil­dren and grand­chil­dren and made per­fect babysit­ters — un­til they lost their house keys and left the stove on, at which point they were in dan­ger of be­ing whisked off to God’s Wait­ing Room, which wasn’t nec­es­sar­ily all that pleas­ant. Some, how­ever, had fam­i­lies who would con­tinue to put up with them.

But things are dif­fer­ent now and many aged pen­sion­ers de­cide — while they are still able to do so — to be with peo­ple of their own gen­er­a­tion. That doesn’t mean they can’t still look af­ter grand­chil­dren if they love do­ing that; in fact, they of­ten pre­fer them to their grown-up chil­dren, as long as they get to choose the amount of time they have to put in.

The stan­dard of re­tire­ment homes, by and large, has im­proved enor­mously and many el­ders are pleased with the treat­ment they get. There are weekly out­ings, bar­be­cues — which ev­ery­body loves — vis­its to con­certs and plays, bridge lessons, se­nior golf­ing days and pic­nics and gen­eral ca­ma­raderie. An­other up­side is that there is al­ways some­one who will make sure you’re OK ev­ery morn­ing, alive and kick­ing and look­ing for­ward to brekkie, some­thing that isn’t the case if you’re liv­ing en­tirely alone.

Well, that’s the good side of it. I re­mem­ber one Mother’s Day go­ing to visit my hus­band’s mother in a place where ev­ery­one was very old, and the staff made sure they all had their hair done so their chil­dren would be proud of them. The oldies sat on their beds pre­tend­ing not to have their eye on the gate, hop­ing like hell they wouldn’t be ne­glected and made fools of.

This is why it’s im­por­tant for or­gan­i­sa­tions such as OPSO to draw at­ten­tion to the way older peo­ple are treated and to pro­vide some prac­ti­cal ad­vice. For ex­am­ple, there are classes in what they call ‘‘ up­dat­ing driv­ing prac­tices’’. Tell me about it. In the sub­urb where I live the av­er­age age of car driv­ers is at least 200. Ev­ery time I get a taxi home I make sure I warn the driver about the dan­gers of trav­el­ling this road. More than of­ten than not you would be ex­cused for think­ing there wasn’t a driver of the car in front; the only sign of life is a pair of hands cling­ing on to the steer­ing wheel. But in­de­pen­dence is im­por­tant and it’s good to have sen­si­ble reg­u­la­tions about how older peo­ple can con­tinue to use their cars.

I know sev­eral peo­ple who are in their 80s and even 90s who still have all their mar­bles. The ex­perts used to say do­ing cryp­tic cross­words was ben­e­fi­cial for the brain; now they say they’re not much good at all. The best way to keep your san­ity is phys­i­cal ex­er­cise: swim­ming, yoga and brisk walk­ing or cy­cling. Just be care­ful not to fall off.

In the mean­time, OPSO is look­ing out for us, for which we are grate­ful. At present it is very con­cerned about the lack of public trans­port in many places, which can mean older driv­ers are forced to rely on pri­vate trans­port for busi­ness, shop­ping, ac­cess to med­i­cal cen­tres and so on. This can be ex­tremely dif­fi­cult in ar­eas where they have to travel long dis­tances, even to the point where peo­ple are be­ing forced to move.

Still, we must re­main pos­i­tive about our fu­ture, what­ever it may be.

Some friends and I have thought about find­ing a home we could share with those we like and with whom we have some com­mon his­tory. We all like to see old pals, and there would be no crit­i­cism from any­one when we for­got things. We’d prob­a­bly call it some­thing like The Last Re­sort.

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