Finding the way - ageing in Australia
18 September 2012

Finding the way - ageing in Australia

Thinking about how life changes and exploring how spirituality links with ageing were key themes of the launch of a research report into the ageing experience in Australia.

Lindsay Tanner, former Federal Finance Minister, launched the Benetas paper, Finding the way – a Theology of Ageing, written by Reverend Canon Dr Stephen Ames and commissioned by Benetas, on 13 September offering his reflections on what it means to age well in Australia.

“The question of the length of time, that we all see as the ageing process is changing dramatically. It’s now decades for many people. Whereas it’s not that long ago that this was kind of a relatively limited thing that happened at the end of your life...whereas now increasingly what we...see as ageing, is actually a very substantial percentage of many people’s lives. This invites us to rethink what we see as ageing and in particular to rethink how we deal with that latter stage of our life,” Mr Tanner said.

View the full transcript of Mr Tanner's speech.

View the full report and more information.

At the launch, Sandra Hills, CEO Benetas, said there is a very real ‘ageist’ attitude in Australia, and that Benetas plans to use a theology of ageing as an advocacy tool towards changing this attitude.

“Our society is caught up in the idea of youth, which means that our older people are often forgotten about or stereotyped. The amount of anti-ageing messages in the media is quite overwhelming. We are trying to change that attitude and show our society that, yes life changes and your body changes as you age, but we should be embracing and accepting these changes – not pretending to be something that we are not,” Ms Hills said.

A theology of ageing also looks at ageing in the light of spirituality and Christianity. Author of the paper, Reverend Canon Dr Stephen Ames explained that spirituality is what addresses a person’s ‘spiritual needs’, which are the needs for lived answers to the ‘big questions’, whatever form this may take.

“Ageing provides many challenges including challenges to our spirituality. We feel the significance of the ‘big questions’ as we face the changes ageing brings. Ageing well includes being able to address these spiritual challenges and have a positive experience regardless,” Dr Ames said.

“It is important that aged care providers can support older people within their chosen spirituality, whether that be in the light of God, or otherwise. Benetas not only wanted a Theology of Ageing, they also wanted a Theology of Ageing to provide a basis for all of their operations, and the basis for them to influence other organisations. Wisdom knows the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And Benetas’ Board has sought a Theology of Ageing to point it towards the main thing,” Dr Ames said.

Ms Hills said the paper also strived to show people that even as we age, it is vital that we do not lose who we are.

“Many people think that as one part of us declines, whether that is cognitively or physically, we lose our ‘person’. A theology of ageing argues that, in fact, the opposite is true – just because we lose capacity in some areas doesn’t make us any less of a person. It is vital for our society to understand that older people’s lives are still as important as they have always been, so a positive experience of ageing can be achieved,” Ms Hills said.

A theology of ageing has helped Benetas take an ambitious step towards better understanding its own identity and Ms Hills hopes that it will be used to inspire other organisations to also clarify their mission and vision.

“We hope to use a theology of ageing as a practical basis for both Benetas’ future work as a faith based organisation and also as a tool for other organisations and governments to implement. It is important for our society to change their attitudes towards older people, to ultimately help them retain their dignity as they age,” Ms Hills said.

View the full report and more information.