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Report compiled by John McNamee

WE’VE probably known it for a long time and never fully acknowledged it but it seems it is always the older women in a long-term marriage or partnership who seem to bounce back stronger from life’s major crises.

Too often we see older men who have lost their wives of many years finding it difficult to continue.

Many take to the drink with disastrous consequences, or begin to neglect their health, or fail to seek professional counselling or just curl up in a ball and even give up playing golf with their mates and shun all social contact.

So it was no surprise when a recent National Seniors report concluded that it is definitely the older women who cope better than men of a similar age following major life events such as divorce or death of a loved one.

Women, regardless of age and marital status, were more likely to report ‘stress related growth’ or SRG after such a life crisis, saying they had become more confident and made their own decisions, according to the report titled How do mature age Australians cope with difficult life events?

One reason for women posting better SRG than men is that they are known to be more expressive with their feelings than men, the report says.

“The study highlights the need for greater support for those at risk of social isolation and depression,” said National Seniors chief executive Michael O’Neill.

“Older people have lifetimes of experience to draw from when it comes to facing personal crises.

“But if people live alone, have no family close by or otherwise don’t have the resources to help them cope, they may be unable to fully recover from a major life event.

“This has increasing implications for public health policy as the population ages and is something that all governments and the community cannot afford to ignore.”

The study examined 1,923 survey responses to determine how mature age Australians deal with life crises.

The most frequently reported types of difficult life events were the death of a family member or a friend, retirement from work, change in health of a family member, major personal illness, changes in financial state and divorce.

Relationship issues and experiencing adverse changes in financial matters were much more likely to be reported as difficult life events by those who did not finish high school.

More than half of those who experienced an event reported using prayer or attending a church/mosque/synagogue as part of their coping strategy.

But a higher proportion (over 80 per cent) reported receiving help and support from someone close to them, such as their partner or spouse, parents or relatives who helped them to work through their problems, rather than just ‘giving up’.

The report was written by Thoa Menyen of National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre.

Meanwhile, Australia’s over-50s consumer lobby recently welcomed the federal government’s proposal for one third independent directors and an independent chair for APRA-regulated superannuation funds.

A recommendation of the 2010 Cooper Review, the proposal aims to bring the governance requirements of superannuation funds in line with those of ASX-listed companies, banks and life insurers. The proposal does not apply to self-managed superannuation funds.

“Independence and transparency are in the best interests of the system as a whole,” said Mr O’Neill.

“Consumers want strong legislated safeguards built around their retirement savings.

“The greatest risk to retirement income remains the non-performance of the financial advice sector,” he said.

Another new report out shows that nearly four out of five older workers say they have either never – or not recently – planned their careers and that they did not need to do so.

Unlike school leavers and university graduates, most mature age workers do not invest the time and energy they need to progress their careers, the National Seniors Productive Ageing Centre report Prevalence of Career Planning Among Mature Age Australians found.

“Instead of continuously updating their skills, the research suggests the over-50s are reacting only at crisis points, such as job loss or ill health,” Mr O’Neill said.

“But planning is vital for broadening work options, improving salary and extending working lives,” he said. “When older workers find themselves out of a job, particularly in a declining industry, a career change or training could save them from the dole queue or reduce their time on the queue.”

The report, based on 1,873 survey responses, shows of those who had worked in the past five years, 78 per cent had not recently or had never undertaken career planning.

Other findings include:

* Only 34 per cent of those surveyed said career planning was ‘very’ or ‘somewhat important’ to their quality of life as they aged; half said it was not important.

* 78 per cent of people who had worked in the past five years said they had not recently sought information on career planning; of those who did, 46 per cent said the information had been hard to find.

* 28 per cent felt they did not need to undertake paid or unpaid work, 18 per cent believed career planning would not help them; 14 per cent said career planning was not important.

*The most common motivation for recently undertaking career planning was to seek advice on preparing for/ transitioning to retirement (30%).

ABS data shows that in 2014, job seekers aged 55 and older were out of work for an average of 72 weeks, compared with an average of only 40 weeks for people aged 15-54.

National Seniors also reiterated their message that older workers must acquire new qualifications and boost their current work-related skills if they are to remain competitive in the changing workforce.

A study of more than 1900 people aged over 50 found many mature age Australians are not focussing on education and training opportunities as they age, leaving them vulnerable to unemployment as they get older.

Mr O’Neill said the findings highlighted the importance of keeping skills and qualifications up to date.

“The changing nature of work, such as a shift towards short term project roles and advances in digital technology means demand for strong skill sets in all occupations and sectors is growing,’’ O’Neill said.

“It is a two-way street – mature age workers need to be proactive or they run the risk of skills and competencies developed during their working life becoming devalued, especially as computer based technologies take over the workforce.”

This study found that many mature age Australians do not place great importance on learning, education and training as they don’t believe it contributes to their quality of life.

Forty per cent (40%) of respondents indicated they had undertaken some form of learning, education or training within the last three years.

Of the mature age Australians who had participated in learning, education or training, 59 per cent believed their current work-related skills and knowledge were very up to date compared with just 24 per cent who believed their skills were very out of date.

Research shows that a 55-year-old who becomes unemployed faces an average 73 weeks out of work compared to person in their 20s who would be out of work for 23 weeks.

The findings were published in a Productive Ageing Centre report written by Dr Ruth Williams called Never too late to learn: Learning, education and training among mature age Australians.

And grandparents should welcome a recently published report from specialist travel insurer Boomers that suggests they need to prepare carefully before travelling overseas with their grandchildren, particularly in countries that require additional proof of guardianship.

Medical needs, immigration requirements and airline policies mean grandparents need to plan ahead to avoid complications that can arise when children travel without their parents.

Boomers Travel Insurance Managing Director Ian Jackson said it was increasingly common for Australians to take their grandchildren on overseas holidays, exposing them to difficulties not ordinarily encountered at home.

“Different countries have different policies on allowing children to enter and leave without their parents,” Mr Jackson said. “Children travelling with a guardian can leave and return to Australia with only their passports, but other countries have strict rules that require documents beyond the regular passport and visa.”

Mr Jackson said it was important to check requirements with the embassy, high commission or consulate of each destination country. Some countries required evidence that a child had parental permission to travel, or might request other documents to identify the parents such as birth certificates, adoption papers or custody orders.

Boomers Travel Insurance is Australia’s first dedicated online travel insurer for over-50s and provides cover for children at no extra cost when travelling with their parents or grandparents.

Issued and managed by one of the world’s largest group of companies providing travel insurance, Allianz Global Assistance, Boomers Travel Insurance has been developed in response to the frustration suffered by many travellers who have difficulty getting insurance because of their age.

Tips for grandparents travelling with children:

* Be aware of documentation required by authorities in all countries to be visited

* Carry a letter of permission from parents in addition to any other documents required

* Be aware of medical requirements and plan to ensure access to child medications

* Ensure all travellers are fully covered by travel insurance

* Carry emergency contact numbers, including insurer’s help line

* Be aware of airline procedures for unaccompanied children if collecting from airports

* Consider providing children with identity wristbands showing emergency contact numbers, in case of separation

# The author gratefully acknowledges the information supplied by National Seniors Australia and Boomers Travel Insurance in the compilation of this article.


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