May 25, 2023

Australian icons share their views on ageism and positive ageing

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Dawn Fraser AC MBE and Ita Buttrose AC OBE lifted the lid on their experiences with ageing. [Source: Wikipedia]

Two of Australia’s highest-profile icons, Dawn Fraser AC MBE and Ita Buttrose AC OBE, have offered their views on ageism and ageing as they combat negative stereotypes, injury and thoughts of entering residential aged care.

The pair appeared at last week’s Aged Care Research & Industry Innovation (ARIIA) conference, Facing the Future: Aged Care 2030 & Beyond, where they spoke passionately to a captive audience.

Despite nearing 86, the three-time Olympian and four-time gold medalist, Ms Fraser, said she still views herself as young because she refuses to let herself feel or act old.

“I feel as though I’m still young and I try and keep my mental capacity that way. I play games on my iPad and I play against my daughter and my grandson which keeps me mentally informed of what they’re doing. They know I’m ok that I’m not in the dementia stage,” Ms Fraser said.

“I’m 86 this year and I feel 68. I always turn my age around when people ask me my age and they say ‘Oh you don’t look that’. If you want to be old you can stay old but I don’t want to be old. I want to grow gracefully old.”

The journey to 86 has some speed bumps as a knee replacement is on the cards for Ms Fraser in July. But the prospect of having to sit back hasn’t stopped her from keeping active, as she continues to garden, walk her dog and keep fit on a bike.

“I haven’t been in a swimming pool for three years because of COVID-19 and as soon as I have my knee operated on I should be in the swimming pool to get better,” she said. “I’ll be doing it three times a day as soon as the stitches come out.”

Back surgery kept Ms Buttrose from making the trip to Adelaide, as the ABC Chair, media personality and former magazine editor appeared via video link. Surgery has also opened up a new world for Ms Buttrose as she said people have suddenly viewed her as being old because she uses a cane for support.

“Sometimes the badges we wear as we get older seem to be a signal to people that there’s a frail human being. I look anything but frail and I think the perception people have of anyone that’s older is that we have a use-by date, we’re useless, we can’t learn things,” she said.

“All those myths, all the negative stereotypes, we have to try and fight those and say to people if you’re lucky, you get to be old, not everybody makes it. It’s the negativity about ageing that spoils it for everybody. Just because you’re getting older doesn’t mean you change inside.”

Combating ageism in the future

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Dawn Fraser and Ita Buttrose appeared at the ARIIA Conference in Adelaide to share important views on ageing. [Source: HelloCare]

Although Ms Buttrose believes most people mean well, age discrimination is common because people are conditioned by negative images of older people in the media.  Frustrated by her experiences, Ms Buttrose called for the use of ‘elder’ instead of ‘old’, while she implored her fellow elders to plan ahead.

“Life is full of detours and we might think the way we are today is the way we will be in ten years but it might not,” she said. “You have to be prepared because life’s journey is very unexpected and that includes how we age. We plan for everything in our lives; education, getting married, having children, their education, buying a house, and going on a holiday.” 

“But few of us plan for when we get older. What if I had an accident, what if they took my driver’s license, what if my partner died or what if I didn’t have enough money to support myself? We have to face the what-ifs if we want to age successfully.”

Meanwhile, Ms Buttrose said negative media portrayals have greatly impacted the way the public views aged care homes and a positive change in direction is needed. 

“What we need to do is improve the image of aged care facilities. There are some fantastic aged care facilities in Australia and there are some that let the side down,” Ms Buttrose said.

“I think they need to be renamed as positive ageing homes to get rid of the negativity. Let’s really try to improve them all so that anybody who does end up going to a positive living home is well cared for.”

Both women agreed that ageing successfully is most likely to occur at home, although Ms Buttrose acknowledged not everyone can do so. For Ms Fraser, ageing at home means she remains connected to her family, an invaluable resource.

“I live with my daughter and grandson and I don’t want to go into an aged care home,” Ms Fraser said. “I have a lot of fun at home with my family. I have my German Shepherd dog I love and he’s getting older, but my grandson has a German Shepherd pup, she’s two years of age and we have two ragdoll kittens and they keep me alive.”

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