Sharing the wisdom of our Elders: Understanding and promoting healthy ageing with older Aboriginal Australians

Project Aim

To investigate what good and healthy ageing means to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.


  • To document health, resilience, social connectedness, and engagement with community and culture with a diverse group of older Aboriginal people who are ‘growing old well’.
  • To share Elders’ insights into the meaning of healthy ageing and stories of ‘growing old well’.
  • To identify current services/programs and whether these align with the needs and expectations of the ageing Aboriginal population.

Project Team:

Project leader: Dr Kylie Radford, Research Fellow, Neuroscience Research Australia (NeuRa) and Conjoint Lecturer, School of Medical Sciences, UNSW
Project partners:

  • Menzies School of Health Research
  • Galambila Aboriginal Health Service
  • Durri Aboriginal Corporation Medical Service
  • Tharawal Aboriginal Corporation
  • Guriwal Aboriginal Health Service

Administering organisation: The University of New South Wales
Project timeline: 1 January 2018—31 March 2019


The project used a mixed-methods design which was divided into three sections:

  1. Quantitative and qualitative analyses and report of a comprehensive longitudinal survey of older Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people from NSW.
  2. Engagement with Aboriginal community-controlled health services and older people to design, produce and disseminate ‘ageing well’ resources (with process documentation and evaluation).
  3. Environmental scans of services currently provided and interview staff on their knowledge and attitudes of healthy ageing in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Project Findings

The responses from the 118 research participants to the question ‘Over your lifetime, what have you learned is important for growing old well?’ resulted in a range of answers that were classified into five overarching themes deemed to be of primary importance to Elders. These themes are:

  1. Culture
  2. Sacred Grounds
  3. Spirituality
  4. Dreamtime
  5. Sharing the Wisdom of our Elders.

From these overarching themes, 7 core categories with individual sub-themes emerged namely:

  1. Connections to Country and Culture
  2. Respect yourself, the Elders and all the mob
  3. Growing old in good health, passing on knowledge
  4. Keeping healthy to life a long life
  5. Saying no to drugs, alcohol and smoking
  6. Education
  7. Resilience.

Aligning the needs and expectations of older Aboriginal people with service provision (environmental scan of available services and semi-structured interviews with services). Service providers asked the same questions about the ways in which services were contributing to healthy ageing in the local Aboriginal community, including insights and experiences into any successful approaches, challenges and gaps that need to be addressed gave responses that were analysed qualitatively to produce the following themes:

  1. Elders and cultural respect
    • Family roles
    • Cultural obligations
    • Kinship structure is unique and treasured.
  2. Services
    • Inconsistent, lacking ongoing funding
    • Aboriginal specific preferred staff who are known, trusted, and engaged needed in all services.
  3. Needs Identified
    • Education for families – dementia awareness and ageing issues
    • Education regarding the aged care system and NDIS
    • Lack of knowledge of cultural protocols by mainstream services
    • Respite for carers: the need for Culturally Specific Respite and a space for carers
    • Transport to enable access to services.

Project Outcomes

  • Aboriginal Elders’ knowledge and stories will be preserved.
  • Research experience and capacity development of the research team.
  • Increased research awareness and dissemination of information about healthy ageing and dementia prevention to Aboriginal service providers and health workers.
  • Culturally safe care provision for Aboriginal Elders in the community.
  • This project will identify ways in which current services and planners/policy makers can better meet the needs of an ageing Aboriginal population.

Related rsources:

Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the traditional owners of the land across Australia and pay our respects to their Elders past, present and future. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, voices and names of deceased persons.