Rethinking ageing in Australia: A chat with Patricia Edgar

In her most recent book, PEAK: Reinventing Middle Age, author, TV producer and scholar Patricia Edgar argues 50 to 75 is the new middle age. We ask her thoughts on life and work for over 50s in Australia and for tips on living later life to the fullest.

What is the conventional thought about 50 year olds and why do you believe it should now be seen as just the start of middle age?

When I was born in 1937, 50 was considered to be middle aged; people retired at 60-65 and died soon after. Medical science has given us an additional 25-30 years of life over the last century and by the end of this century or earlier, the 100-year life will be commonplace. Fifty is the beginning of the second half of life, certainly our adult life. In PEAK we define middle age as 50-75, as old age or frailty does not now set in until after that for most people.

You’ve mentioned you are 80 and still feel middle aged. Do you think there is a great chasm between the way people see older Australians and the way they actually feel about themselves?

I do. We are the fittest, most active and best-educated generation that has ever lived, only society’s structures and perceptions have not kept up. We will change that.

You’ve mentioned our long middle age can be a productive resource for the country if harnessed properly. How could businesses support and embrace older workers?

People want to work; they have much to offer with experience and understanding of people and relationships, what we call emotional intelligence.

Research shows older workers are more reliable, stay in jobs longer than younger people and are capable of learning new things, but they want more flexibility in the hours they work. The workplace is out of step with social needs to its detriment. HR people target the older workers for redundancy and throw their job applications in the bin. This must change.

The middle-aged bring up children, care for ageing parents and volunteer. They are the glue holding society together.

In your book In Praise of Ageing you included interviews with some wonderfully inspiring older people. Who surprised you the most with their vitality and were there any lifestyle or character traits they all seemed to have in common?

They are all surprising. They have resilience and persistence. They are the kind of people who pick themselves up when things go wrong as they do for all of us.

We all experience accidents, loss, ill-health – these experiences are part of life. But some people bounce back and reinvent themselves. The successful long livers and the people in PEAK are in this category.

Could you provide some tips for living a full life after 50?

  • Keep active physically, eat sensibly.
  • Engage with others – friendships are vital.
  • Look after your family. Grandparents who look after grandkids live five years longer.
  • Have friends across the age groups.
  • Have a purpose. Think ahead. There is not just one job for you.
  • Challenge yourself by doing something new – learn a language, a musical instrument.
  • If you cease to work in a job, stay engaged – volunteer, act as a mentor.
  • Remain interested in the world around you.
  • Don’t give up.
  • Don’t surround yourself with misery. Laugh!

Patricia and Don Edgar’s book PEAK: Reinventing Middle Age is now available through Text Publishing.

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