We spoke with COTA NSW board member Laurie Axford on his career, issues he’s passionate about and the opportunities he’s discovered with ageing.
Q: What motivated you to join the COTA NSW board?
I spent almost 20 years working in a privately operated cardiac rehabilitation program as the director of exercise. This was extremely rewarding work to be helping mostly older Australians make changes to their lifestyle with the aims of a higher quality of life and secondary prevention of heart disease, i.e. avoiding another heart attack. So from when I was in my mid-twenties onwards I felt a high level of affiliation with the needs of, and issues facing, older Australians. Being on the COTA NSW board provides me with the opportunity to maintain a high level of support for older Australians and develop further my understanding of the issues this age group faces and what can be done to improve outcomes for them.
Q: What issue do you believe more people should be talking about?
In my opinion obesity is the biggest issue facing Australians, with 2 out of 3 adult Australians now overweight or obese and more than 25% of children. We have created an obesogenic society and it will take an all of society approach and some time to turn this around. Yes individuals need to take some responsibility, but current norms in the Australian society around exercise and eating habits, food availability etc have created an environment where it is harder for people to maintain a healthy weight than was the case only 3 decades ago. There is considerable public mis-information about exercise, diet and health generally which seems to negatively affect older Australians as much as younger people.
The other issue more specific to Australians over 50 years old is age discrimination, e.g. in the workplace. Older working Australians are discriminated against in many ways with reduced opportunity for training, promotions and pay rises and are more likely to be offered forced redundancies and reduced hours. The discrimination has a greater impact on those with less education and training throughout their career. This is a social and economic issue. Older Australians should have the opportunity to continue to work if they choose to, especially as the retirement age for pensions is being pushed out. Also all Australians need the older age groups to keep working, pay taxes and delay transition to aged pensions. Birth rates and immigration are unlikely to keep up with the economic implications of the ageing population.
Q: What are some of the opportunities that you’ve discovered with age?
I’ve been lucky to have had the opportunity to work with people of all age groups, having been mentored by great people and seeking to repay that by mentoring younger people now. I enjoy sharing skills like project and client management and generally guiding young professionals through the early stages of their careers. I’m also grateful to be able to see my children grow and become successful and caring adults and the joys of grandparenting.