I have finally got around to reading Nelson Mandela’s autobiography: Long Walk to Freedom. It is a gripping account of the struggle by indigenous Africans in South Africa for political freedom in their own country. Mandela was 76 years old when he finally assumed the mantle of president. Now in his 90s he’s still going strong – but not as president of course.
This led me to think about other famous figures who have achieved in their latter years. A few examples: Winston Churchill, Charles De Gaul and Golda Meir. Victor Hugo, Michelangelo and Verdi were still extremely productive in their 80s. Verdi was in fact so active and clear minded at 80, conducting rehearsals 6 to 8 hours a day that his doctors were astonished. One of them wrote: “The anomaly is so extraordinary that it may well throw the ideas of those who have done research on the subject into confusion.” What were those ideas? In the words of the famous physician Dr. William Osler of Johns Hopkins University, they included ”the loss of mental elasticity that makes men over 40 so slow to receive new truths” thus rendering people over 40 “comparatively useless” and those over 60 “entirely dispensable.”
As most readers of this newsletter will be aware, each year the Foundation sponsors two summer research studentships for undergraduates mainly but not exclusively from the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences of The University of Auckland. (This is in addition to the scholarships we fund at Master’s and Doctoral level elsewhere.)
The students spend approximately two months over the long vacation undertaking research projects that have a bearing on ageing, supervised by senior teaching staff of the Faculty.
The recent events in Christchurch have brought into sharp focus the inherent instability of these “shaky isles” as the Aussies love to call them. (But just remind them of Newcastle 1989).
Until there is a major disaster, we take the services we receive – water, sewage, electricity, gas, etc. very much for granted. But the truth is that we live in a potentially unstable environment. And when destructive forces are released, it is the older people and those with disabilities who fare worst. We have seen rest home residents transferred all over the South Island, often far away from families.
As you will see over-page, the Foundation has awarded three scholarships for the 2010 academic year. They are all for important areas of research, but one proposal, that of Michael Annear especially intrigues me.
He proposes to evaluate in detail how neighbourhood conditions influence the physical activity and social life of older people. I suppose it 'rings a bell' with me because right now my wife and I are in the process of selling the family home of 40 years and looking for a smaller alternative. And we are trying to take into account not just the layout of potential houses and properties and what amenities are available and how close, but also, as far as we can discover, the ambience of the neighbourhood - including what the neighbours are like, levels of street violence, frequency of burglaries in the vicinity and so on.
In the six months since the publication of our last newsletter, the Foundation has experienced both lows and highs. The resignation due to ill health and then the death of our Executive Officer, Jan Bowman MNZM in June was a huge blow.
Jan had been our EO for five years, a period in which she made a huge contribution to the Foundation. (See separate column.) Jan would have been one of the most capable and innovative people I know. She was passionate about the Foundation’s objectives. Thank you Jan!
Arnica Wesley-James, 2005 Scholar from Victoria University, Wellington
Submitted her thesis in mid 2007
In September, The Foundation released a report (which it had commissioned) into how the country’s 21 District Health Boards (DHBs)are caring for their elderly populations.
The Report attracted wide media coverage and is available to view here