There is no such thing as "average" as you grow older so what does old age mean for you?

Aug 11 2020

Professor Julie Byles is a gerontologist who wants us to view ageing not as a problem - but as a success. Her work explores how people can age well, and what we as individuals and a society can do to promote healthy ageing. 

Her key research questions are around what health services are available to people, who needs these services and are the right people getting the services they need. Most importantly, are those services working as they should? 

Julie is Co-Director of the HMRI Public Health research program and the Director of the University of Newcastle Priority Research Centre for Gender, Health and Ageing. She is also the Director of the Australian Longitudinal Study on Women’s Health (ALSWH).   

As part of her work with ALSWH Julie has been working with the oldest group of women in the cohort - who are now aged 90 and above. These voices, often unheard in our society have provided the team with a rich vein of information about what it's like to live as an older woman in society. 

When Julie first started researching these women in 1996 they were aged 70 - 75. Along with the regular boxes to tick, their regular surveys included the option to write more on the backs of their surveys. The first time they responded, out of 12, 432 women, around 7,000 wrote on the back!

And Julie read them all.

The one thing many of these women had in common was they'd say "I'm not your average 70-year-old" but they are - Julie says we've got the average wrong. These women are active, live great social lives and have strong friendships - that's the secret to ageing well. With over 25 years together, many of these women are still regularly participating in the study - sharing with the researchers how they're navigating life. 

The work Julie does not only informs research, it informs government at a state and federal level to inform policy. What do we, as a society, need to do to allow our ageing population to flourish? Certainly policies and procedures to help us 'age-in-place' and live safely at home for longer help.

Professor Julie Byles spoke with ABC Newcastle's Kia Handley. Listen here