Anniversaries encourage reflection. It’s good to look back and ponder over where you have come from and how.
They offer a chance for celebration of the here and now. And they’re also a stimulus for renewing vision; trying to get the future a little more into focus and thinking about new directions.
Just a few weeks ago, the results of an international ‘happiness survey’ –the United Nations Global Report on Happiness - were released.
The researchers found that when a variety of social, personal and economic factors were taken into account, New Zealanders were ranked the 13th happiest world citizens. The five happiest countries were the Scandinavian ones. Of interest is the fact that the Scandinavian countries support some of the oldest populations in the world. In Sweden for example, 18% of the population is over 65 compared with 13% in NZ Mental illness is apparently the most important source of unhappiness. By world standards, we have a relatively high rate of suicide and that drags us down the ratings.
Since it started to fund summer research students doing age-related research in 1999, the Foundation has funded 23 such students.
Since it began funding scholarships for masters and doctoral student in 2004, 31 scholarships have been awarded to 18 doctoral students (some students have been supported for more than one year), and eight to masters students. In addition we have arranged at least one public seminar most years, paid for some contract research on issues the Foundation felt needed urgent review, and funded a visiting professor.
The Olympic Games occupied the attention of most of us in July. Even for those of us who don't subscribe to Sky TV, the free to air coverage on Prime TV was excellent.
We have been able to share the triumphs and the disasters, the good shows and the no shows in a more intimate and immediate way than I can ever recall.
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