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Learning on the job

Kia ora koutou,

Mark Wilson here, Eldernet’s newest staff member. I have joined the team as a writer and editor for print and online, so you can expect to hear from me quite often. I hope to hear from many of you also.

When I say ‘joined’ the team, as with so many things in these times that’s in a virtual way. I have yet to get the grand tour of the office but thanks to the internet I have ‘e-met’ all my new colleagues and been included in a raucous Friday evening session of online Pictionary.

One upside of starting a new job during the lockdown has been lots of time for reading and research. Which is good, because many trees have paid the ultimate price in the service of the aged care sector. I started with the strategies that have guided government policies towards the sector since 2001. The Positive Ageing Strategy and its successor, Better Later Life, aim to improve opportunities for older people to participate in the community and ensure that government policies support this.

Over and over the two strategies stress the importance of older people feeling valued for who they are and what they can do (rather than what they can’t), acknowledged for what they have already contributed, and encouraged to do more. The fact that people are living longer and being healthier for longer is cause for celebration. In the words of Professor Sik Hung Ng of Victoria University, those aged 65-plus are a ‘national treasure’ that New Zealand can ill afford to undervalue or exclude from society.

Another consistent theme is that a society better for the aged is also better for all. Better Later Life identifies five key areas for action:

  • Achieving financial security and economic participation.
  • Promoting healthy ageing and improving access to services.
  • Creating diverse housing choices and options.
  • Enhancing opportunities for participation and social connection.
  • Making environments accessible.

A society that can deliver these for its older members will be well placed to do the same for other groups that feel they are on the outside looking in.

The other thing my research has reinforced is that ‘the aged’ are not a monolithic, homogenous group, they are as diverse as the rest of society. The strategies recognise this explicitly. As well as ethnicity, Better Later Life lists diversity as including differences in age, religion, philosophy, socio-economic background, sexual orientation, gender identity, intelligence, physical abilities, mental health, physical health, disabilities, genetic attributes, personality and behaviour. ‘This increased diversity means people who make up the older population may have different aspirations and needs as they age,’ the authors say.

So what have I learned in my first week? That older New Zealanders deserve to be valued and celebrated, not just ‘looked after’; that they are a valuable community resource that could contribute even more if society made it easier for them to do so; and that they are not a ‘they’ but rather a rich and diverse group of individuals representing thousands of lives lived and life lessons learned.

Get in touch I would love to hear your views on New Zealand’s strategy towards ageing, or on any other issues facing older people. Email me on media@eldernet.co.nz

About Mark Wilson

Mark Wilson
Mark Wilson is Content Creator and Publication Lead at Eldernet and Care Publications. Mark has been a senior journalist and editor for several publishers, notably The Press and its then parent company, Fairfax Media. He has a wide range of experience in newspapers, magazines and online publishing. When not at work, he enjoys walking Olive the dog along New Brighton beach and exploring Te Wai Pounamu/South Island with his partner, Lee, in their trusty 4WD.