Golden oldies

Recently I’ve been trawling around op shops for vinyl records, hoping for that gem. The trouble is everyone else is now doing, so the hope of finding a signed Beatles is non existent. Or even just a copy of The Triffids  Born Sandy Devotional. But I have been discovering a lot of golden oldies, music that my parents listened to in the 50s and 60s, Sergio Mendes, Shirley Bassey, Herb Alpert, Bert Kaempfert, Henry Mancini etc. And its been a bit of fun, although I’m not sure the family thinks so.

It has made me think about how we have been pretty dismissive of this type of music, and there are a lot of strengths to it: is well written, well arranged, well played, and well sung. Jimmy Page and John Paul Jones  of the greatest rock band ever, Led Zeppelin were session musicians on many records, as was the great John McLaughlin. This led me to reflect on golden oldies and preparedness, and how we in the sector tend to treat them as a problem because they are old, and not as a result of their circumstances.

Old  people aren’t as mobile. Nope, either is the 25 year old down the road who has had a knee reconstruction and has been using a wheel chair. Old people get confused. Yep. So do I when faced with multiple inputs. They aren’t in good health. Yep, so do many of my friends who live with chronic illness. Old people don’t use computers (I always laugh at this, as it was my mother who taught me how to do internet searches). Research indicates 70% of people over 65 use the internet regularly. As I have written previously, its about capacity and not demography that makes you resilient or at risk.

I first started to realise this when we were running a call centre for exemptions during a power crisis in 2000.  Older callers were seeking advice and not exemption, because they had lived through a time when the power supply was not reliable, and went off all the time. They had the experience of being able to deal with it. Not like some of the 23 year old males “It’s too hot, I wanna put on my airconditioning”. My own mother, who was quite frail at the time, also confirmed this. “I’m fine, got everything I need”

Vicky Cornell’s work from Flinders University is really important in this regard. She undertook 11 in depth interviews with people aged from 77 to 90. Some of the results are surprising, and counter to prevailing views. Interviewees felt better prepared mentally for emergencies because of their life experience. They accept their limitations, but within this also feel prepared to deal with things, and through long lives have undertaken steps to deal with changes and uncertainty. Some of these life experiences would be useful to pass onto others. But our provision of education and support is not like that. We seek out specific target groups of “elderly” or “people with a disability” and there is no opportunity for learning from our elders.

The concept of ibasho is fascinating, not readily translatable it is about creating places that people can feel comfortable. I came across it from one of Daniel Aldrich’s latest projects, examining the role of an elder run Ibasho Café in recovering community in Japan in building resilience.  These places, similar to our Neighbourhood Houses, are places where people can come, connect, and solve problems. They are elder managed, drawing upon people’s skills, and have been demonstrated to improve social capital, one of the core ingredients for disaster resilience.

One of the challenges at the heart of this, is how we in an anglo-saxon community view our elders. We often view them as a burden rather than a resource, and someone who can still contribute in a worthwhile way to family and community life. I recall an elderly gentleman in visited after floods in our suburb. He must have been in his 90s. Yes it was bad he said, but not as bad as the 1934 floods. The ones in 1952 were pretty bad too. We chatted a lot about all the different floods in the area. I learned that flooding was very common here.  Indigenous elders are the holders of the stories, the histories, and the knowledge of the land, and their wisdom is carefully stewarded and passed on. THe stories of our grandparents are “boring”

There is much we can learn when we bring the golden oldies to the centre of our thinking, rather than relegating them as a peripheral problem to be solved.

Dame Shirley Bassey, at 74

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