19 November 2003

The needs of older people and the future well-being of all Australians will be the focus of a research conference in Brisbane this week.

New research to be presented at the 2nd National Conference of Emerging Researchers in Ageing (ERA) in Brisbane this Friday (21 November) showcases a wide range of critical health and social areas. Projects cover important issues such as dementia and driving abilities, weights training, finance and workplace discrimination, as well as over-competitiveness in masters sport, body image and the influence of exercise on memory retention.

Around 40 researchers from the Australasian region will present their work. According to the Director of The University of Queensland’s Australasian Centre on Ageing, Professor Helen Bartlett, focusing on ageing issues now was critical for our future health and well-being.

She said service providers, practitioners and policy makers would benefit from the emerging research.

“Policy decisions about the future of our population can be made with greater confidence if they are informed by this research. The quality and diversity of research to be presented at our 2003 conference is incredibly high. We attract future leaders in this field. Research evidence will be presented by students from across Australia, New Zealand and Hong Kong,” Professor Bartlett said.

Keynote speaker Professor Clare Ungerson will present an address on Making the personal political: an odyssey in ageing research. In this address, she will share her experiences of creating a research agenda in long-term care, securing funding and influencing policy.

ERA 2003 “Maximising the Impact on Policy and Practice,” will be held at the Brisbane Convention and Exhibition Centre, SouthBank.

The event is organized by UQ’s Australasian Centre on Ageing. Major sponsor for the event is the Federal Government’s Office of an Ageing Australia, Aged care provider Blue Care is ERA event partner and the Queensland Government is also sponsoring the conference. Conference registration and program details are available online at www.uq.edu.au/aca .

For more information contact : Claire Booth, Events Consultant on 0409 597 007. Abstracts of papers are attached:


Title: “Friendly Competition”: Discourses of Ageing in Masters Sport
Author: Cathy Hayles
Organisation: School of Social Science and Australasian Centre on Ageing, The University of Queensland

Masters sport is currently the fastest growing sector of organised sport in Australia. Structured so that older adults compete against others of their own age, it is often promoted as a form of exercise in which people of any age and ability can participate. The discourse of Masters sport emphasises a relaxed, friendly atmosphere, and the virtues of simply participating and “doing one’s best”. However, sport as it is understood in contemporary Western cultures is inherently competitive. It is intended to distinguish the best performers from the rest. This discourse of achievement is reproduced in some areas of Masters sporting culture, particularly in the extra recognition accorded to those who win.
Through a discussion of the findings of a qualitative study involving interviews with Masters sport participants, analysis of promotional material, and participant observation, this paper explores participants’ responses to the apparent paradox posed by the concurrence of these ideas. As discourses of gender interact with those of ageing and sport, these issues are sometimes expressed and experienced differently by men and women. This study reveals how for some older adults, the prevalence of the two perspectives is experienced as a conflict, in which the desire to win is felt to be in some sense inappropriate for people in later life. However, for others the presence of the two themes simultaneously, without a clear resolution, in fact provides a space in which the participant feels able to assign their own meaning to the competition.

Title: Do Exercise Interventions Improve Quality of Life in Older Adults: The Need for a Specific Measure
Author: Tim Henwood
Organisation: Human Movement Studies & Australasian Centre on Ageing

Of all age-related physiological changes the decrease in muscle mass experienced due to normal ageing is said to have the most profound impact on the growing population of older adults. The loss of muscle capability has a significant association with the loss of physical function and the occurrence of falls, and further, these often culminate in a loss of independence and decrease in quality of life. While resistance training has displayed significant benefits for both male and female subjects, few studies have reported changes in quality of life to compliment the observed increases in muscle performance. This study aims to assess the appropriateness of the existing quality of life instruments when used in conjunction with an older subject group and a resistance training study. Furthermore, following focus sessions with older adults interested in resistance training, and the analysis of these sessions, an instrument will be designed sensitive to the physical benefits experienced by the elderly following weight-bearing exercise. As a further outcome, the questionnaire will be applied to a cohort of older adults involved in resistance training interventions in the hope that the physical benefits experience can be replicated in a significant change in quality of life.
University of Queensland

Title: An experiential approach to bodies: the relevance for policy and practice
Author: Mair Underwood
Organisation: Anthropology, University of Queensland

Traditionally, ageing policy and practice has been guided by the biomedical model which gives little attention to the experiential dimension of ageing bodies. In an ageing population where lifestyle related factors have a major impact on health, it is increasingly important to understand the qualitative experiences of individuals and ensure that policy and practice is evidence based. Phenomenological studies of the experience of bodies are required if we are to adequately understand health related behaviours. This study involves in-depth semi-structured interviews of three different age groups in an effort to understand how people feel about and understand their bodies across the lifespan, and how this translates into their everyday lives. Such information could potentially assist in the provision of appropriate products and services, and in the development of health strategies that are relevant to individuals’ lived experience of their ageing bodies.

Title: What Effects Does Ageing Have on Working Memory?
Author: Stephanie Stephens
Organisation: University of Queensland

Any changes in executive processes are difficult to extract and isolate. Working memory is an integrated system and any behavioural changes could reflect changes in a range of working memory functions. This study aims to access a purer measure of executive processes within visual working memory, and to assess whether differential patterns of ageing exist within visual working memory components. The stimulus of probability 0.250 appears in single and dual tasks with identical stimuli that appears equiprobably or non-equiprobably with the target stimuli. It is hypothesised that first, the choice reaction time difference between the equiprobable and non-equiprobable conditions is a purer measure of executive process time, and second, there will be an age-related difference within and between conditions, and third, there is an age-related difference in choice reaction time over the duration of each stimulus presentation trial. Results will be discussed.

Title: Marginalisation of Mature Age Workers: Combating the Problem with Participatory Action Research
Author: Chris Kossen
Organisation: Dept. Mass Communication, University of Southern Queensland

Widespread views that mature age workers have reduced capacity for productivity, rather than reliable data, have resulted in their disproportionate retrenchment in past decades of economic downturn and restructuring. However, for most of the past decade, Australia has experienced strong jobs growth, but the vast majority of this has been in casual, part-time and contract work. Mature age workers have filled much of this demand and no longer feature as a disadvantaged group in unemployment statistics, but many remain marginalised by way of underemployment. This poor work (Lee 1991) is characterised by low-grade working conditions, including: less job security; lower pay (due to fewer hours); and little or no benefits in the way of sick leave or holiday pay. Lack of sufficient employment earnings can be detrimental to many older workers, whose financial needs are often influenced by: increases in length of dependency of children; rearing children in later stages of life (eg. in second marriages); and financial set-backs (eg. depletion of assets in divorce). Australian governments have only adopted modest measures to counter age discrimination in employment. Furthermore, the federal government is continuing to pursue its agenda to further deregulate the labour market. It is within this context that this paper outlines how qualitative Participatory Action Research (PAR) is being undertaken in an effort to develop knowledge on barriers and issues affecting mature age workers and how the results of PAR research can meaningfully contribute to policy and practice (eg. Centrelink and Queensland TAFE’s Mature Age Employment Program MAEP) and also to the empowerment of mature age workers.

Title: Driving and Visual Performance in an Elderly Population With Glaucoma
Author: Trent Carberry
Organisation: School of Optometry, Queensland University of Technology

Primary open angle glaucoma is usually found in people over the age of 65. Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve head and the retinal ganglion cells. This results in loss of peripheral vision with central acuity remaining normal until the end stages of the disease. Since the damage involves the death of nerves within the eye, the loss of visual function is permanent. This is relevant to driver safety as research suggests that glaucoma can impair driving performance. This study seeks to quantify the impact of glaucoma on driving and determine if glaucoma patients compensate for their visual defects in their driving behaviour. Participants are elderly people who are currently driving. Patients with glaucoma are being tested along with age-matched controls. Questionnaires are administered, including the Activities of Daily Vision Scale, Driver Behaviour Questionnaire and a Driving Exposure questionnaire. Participants undergo vision tests for acuity, contrast sensitivity, field loss and glare, and driving is tested on a closed road circuit with further testing conducted by a driving instructor on the open road. Currently 21 glaucoma participants (mean age 69.7) have been tested on the closed road circuit along with 8 controls (mean age 68.2). Contrast sensitivity and severity of glaucoma as rated on the Hodapp field loss scale have been found to correlate with some aspects of driving performance. It is envisaged that this study will guide policy decisions concerning advice for drivers with glaucoma.