Home' Australian Ageing Agenda : AAA May-Jun 2014 Contents Not easily intimidated, Dr Edgar
continued to write and speak out. A
lecture she gave in November 1979
on setting up a Children's Television
Foundation drew the attention of then
Victorian arts and educational services
minister Norman Lacy who told her he
would like to take it on.
She began working with Lacy in 1980.
Following a year of intense lobbying across
the country by Dr Edgar, the Australian
Children's Television Foundation was
formed in 1982. The following year she
was made its founding director and held
that position for 20 years.
I ask Dr Edgar if ageing is her new
passion. "It is certainly one of them,"
she responds, telling me she has been
passionate about everything she has done.
Dr Edgar says she has always had the
view she would only work in things that
really interested her then move on when
finished. "I always had a kind of instinct for
politics and the way to bring about change
so I got involved with one committee after
another and it all did come together."
When she ran into obstacles it would
often set her off on different directions,
she says. "Discrimination against woman
certainly fired me up in my twenties and
thirties and so I did quite a lot of work in
that area as a result."
Her first career was as a secondary
school teacher but when she married, Dr
Edgar recalls she was forced to resign. "It
was outrageous. I thought that was wrong
then. And it was wrong. Any married
woman had to resign from the teaching
role and they were put on a separate role.
You couldn't get superannuation if you
were married. You couldn't contemplate a
Similarly, discrimination inspired her to
speak out on ageing and write In praise
of ageing. Not surprisingly it was age
discrimination this time. Dr Edgar turned
77 in March.
In three separate episodes, Dr Edgar
says she was shocked that her age had an
impact on preventative health measures.
When she turned 70, Dr Edgar was told
she would no longer be notified that her
two-yearly pap test was due. She could still
have the test, but wouldn't be reminded.
Then during a bowel cancer check, which
she had done every five years, she was told
it wasn't necessary to come back because
she was over 70. A similar thing happened
following a routine mammogram.
Dr Edgar, who had breast cancer when
she was 52, couldn't believe her doctor
said not to come back. "I knew because
I chaired the breast cancer network for
10 years that your risk of breast cancer is
greater the older you get. And if you have
had it before your risk is also increased."
It turned out her doctor was retiring
and offloading his patients. Instead of
giving advice to go to another doctor, Dr
Edgar says he told her she didn't need to
"I questioned my GP. I said what's going
on here? Basically he said it
takes about seven or eight years for a
cancer to develop. If you're going to
get a new one at 70, you're close to
"So they're really saying you've had
your share. You've had your whack. If you
get to 78 and it catches up with you, well
that's stiff. You've had a good life. I just
thought this was insane."
With a focus in medicine on prevention
in order to live longer and lessen the time
you are dependent on the system, if at all,
it doesn't make sense, she says.
"Logically, in terms of cost, you
have got to keep people well as long as
possible. You've got those three things.
You have to eat well. You have to exercise.
You have to maintain your body, see your
doctor, and get good advice."
This ties in with Dr Edgar's grievance
that people see an ageing population as a
burden. She says it is the main theme you
get, and from the economists in particular
the focus is about how there are going to
be so many non-productive old people
draining the system through access to
pensions and healthcare.
On righting this wrong, Dr Edgar says
thinking needs to change from an early
age about how old is old, retirement and
the age pension. Naturally the pension
age has to go up, gradually, Dr Edgar says,
pointing out that when it was introduced
most people didn't make it to 65.
"You are not old at 65 and the word
old is just used wrongly. You are still in
the middle of a very active lifespan. I
don't think a person is old until they are
reaching perhaps 80 and beyond. But
they are not old at 60 and 70 and they
cannot expect, as they have been taught
to expect, that somebody is going to look
after them and pay for them."
Similarly, exercise and nutrition are
key for everybody because people have
to get in the right habit when they are
children, she says. "Obesity is certainly
an issue. That's the issue that's going to
break the bank."
On convincing policy makers about the
positive aspects of ageing, Dr Edgar notes
that most politicians are young and don't
think about ageing. "It is appalling there
is no ministry for ageing. It would be the
farthest thing from Tony Abbott's mind.
He is a very fit active man. He wouldn't
think about being old."
However, it will eventually happen
because there will be so many older
voters, she says, adding it is important
for people to start speaking out. Similarly,
older people need to realise their potential
for later life. She says a lot of people who
have read her book have told her it was
like "an epiphany" and now see they have
a lot of meaningful years ahead.
"It has been transformational for some
people to simply be told, 'It is not that bad.
There are a lot of really positive things and
you have a lot that can go on in your life.' As
more people come to realise this, it will then
have a political impact," Dr Edgar says.
For her part, Dr Edgar plans to
continue her campaign to promote
positive ageing through writing and
talking to people in a position to make
a difference, such as those involved in
research and gerontology. n
Dr Edgar on:
You can't sit in a chair for a couple of decades and think you're not going to suffer. People
have to get out and be active. Walking is probably one of the best things you can do. I
live in Fitzroy, an inner suburb of Melbourne. I have a car but I can walk to most things. I
swim. I go to a gym for strength exercises. I don't do that as often as I should but I do that.
Falling for older people is probably the biggest hazard and that's about muscle strength.
MAINTAINING A HEALTHY BRAIN
That is all about thinking and applying your thinking. Reading and writing are very important
aspects of that but also interaction with people. That's really important. Once you start
closing down your life you close down the opportunities to test your thinking, so get out
there. I go and see a lot of films. I do the Sudoku and the crossword each morning. I see a
lot of people. All of those things are part of keeping engaged and keeping stimulated.
SELECTING THE PEOPLE IN IN PRAISE OF AGEING
They are all people I knew. They loved being a part of the book. They were terrific
because I think with a lot of people at that age, they get to the stage where people don't
think that they are very important. And they don't understand the incredible lives they
have led and the richness of their experience and what they have to offer. It was for all
to change from
an early age
about how old
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