Leading research into ageing

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Newly-appointed Director of Research, Professor John McCallum, spoke with Kristie Forrest about his vision for the future direction of National Seniors’ research program.

One of the biggest issues impacting seniors, according to John McCallum, is dealing with policies and a culture of ageing that doesn’t fit with a life expectancy of 100 years.

“We really need to shift that dependency and inactivity culture to a more productive ageing model,” he said.

“This model is not just about keeping yourself busy. As people age, they can continue to be productive in the public space, influencing the economy, through flexible work options and volunteering, which would help curb loneliness.”

John says social isolation and loneliness are major issues for older people and are as risky as smoking, drinking, being overweight and not doing enough  exercise.

“We really have to stop people becoming socially isolated, and that really depends on families and communities in the  first instance, but there’s also a role for governments in this space.”

Mental health – particularly the propensity for  depression  in  nursing  homes  –  and the financial implications around superannuation and pensions are other important items on the  agenda.

“We have to deal with these topics, pick some priorities and work hard on them – creating better policies and better ways of living, so we leave a better legacy for future generations,” he said.

The Queensland-born professor has an extensive academic career, heading up university faculties and working on major research projects in Australia and overseas.

“My big research projects include the Australia-Japan Collaboration in Aged Care, the Asset and Health Dynamics of the ‘Old’ (AHEAD), the Vietnam Veterans Mortality Study and many other  projects.”

John considers the Dubbo Longitudinal Study, and the development of a health faculty at the University of Western Sydney, among his greatest accomplishments.

“We are still publishing from the Dubbo Study 30 years after it started with findings on what happens to older people’s health and social care, including cardiovascular health, dementia, incontinence, depression, loneliness and service use.”

As Executive Dean of Health at the University of Western Sydney, he established the faculty starting with nursing.

“We had the biggest nursing school in Australia and started new health science programs each year, finishing up with a medical school,” he said.

More recently, he established the Research Translation Group at the National Health and Medical Research Council and National Institute for Dementia Research.

John is currently chair of the Cognitive Decline Partnership Centre (CDPC) governance authority.

“The CDPC brings together aged care service providers, Alzheimer’s Australia and the National Health and Medical Research Council doing practical work aimed at improving outcomes for people who’ve lost cognitive function, a key area of concern for older people,” he said.

He is realistic about the role of research at National Seniors Australia.

“We’re not solely a research institute; we’re also committed to transforming research findings into useful knowledge and action.

“While National Seniors will continue to conduct research, we will also work with others and glean ideas from around the world to form a strong knowledge base to support our advocacy agenda.

“We represent the over 50s and we advocate for them. We will continue to leverage

these assets to raise research money and take on strong strategic partnerships, both nationally and internationally, for meaningful collaboration which results in

better ideas, better research and ultimately better outcomes for older people.”

This article by Kristie Forrest originally appeared in the February/March 2017 edition of 50 something magazine.

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