The OPAL Institute was established to promote the sexual rights of older people. There is growing recognition that older people are sexual. Older people are increasingly seeking information about their sexual wellbeing and service providers are seeking support to promote sexual wellbeing and safety. Alongside this growing interest, there is an increasing body of research on the sexual needs and rights of older people.
While there is growing awareness and evidence - there is still a long way to go before older people's sexual rights are recognised. We are still very ageist - particularly when it comes to sexuality. There is a need for change. For more conversations, for more information, for greater focus on positive aspects of sexuality. The approach taken by the OPAL Institute is on shifting relationships of power, knowledge and culture (more about critical sexuality approaches later). The Institute focuses on information to recognise the sexual rights of older people. We aim to empower older people through the provision of information. One of the ways we will achieve this is through the provision of resources and information to service providers.
Founder and Director
Dr Catherine Barrett is the Founder and Director of Celebrate Ageing and The OPAL Institute. Catherine has been working with older people for over 30 years. She began her professional career in residential aged care, as a Unit Manager and it was in this role Catherine recognised that addressing resident sexuality improved quality of care and resident quality of life. Catherine was part of a team that developed Australia's first sexual health policy in 1998. She moved to academia in 2000 and in 2012 established a Sexual Health and Ageing Program at the Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society (ARCSHS) La Trobe University - attracting around $2.6 million in projects. In 2016 Catherine left academia to establish the OPAL Institute (and other related projects that form celebrateageing.com). The following section outlines some of Catherine's work relating to the sexual rights of older people.
Older Women's Right To Be Safe At Home and in Care (2016): researcher on a project being conducted by the Council on the Ageing, Victoria and ARCSHS to document aged care service providers strategies for preventing sexual assault and to work with peak bodies on the development of a state wide strategy to prevent sexual assault. Project funded by Victorian Women's Trust and is due for completion late 2016
Its Gone Wild Out There (2015): chief researcher for a project in partnership with Women's Health in the South East (WHiSE) that documented older women's experiences of sexual wellbeing and safety
Norma's Project (2014): chief investigator for Norma's Project which documented the first evidence base in Australia on older women's experiences of sexual assault - and strategies for the primary prevention. The project was conducted by ARCSHS in partnership with Alzheimer's Australia, Council on the Ageing, National Ageing Research Institute and the University of Melbourne and was funded by the Federal Government
Conference presentations; presented research on sexual assault at national conferences, including Elder Abuse Conferences, AAG conferences and a panel on Elder Abuse at the LASA National Congress in 2015. International presentation to the British Society of Gerontology Conference in 2016
Victoria Police's Senior's Working Group (2015 - current): working group member.
Alice's Garage (2016): established a project and network to empower LGBTI elders (see: alicesgarage.net)
Still gay ...(2015): chief researcher on a project that documented LGBT people's experiences of dementia and produced a guide to inclusive services and a narrative resource kit for the education of service providers and community members. The project was conducted by ARCSHS in partnership with Alzheimer's Australia and funded by the Australian Government Department of Social Services
We are people first (2015): chief investigator for a project documenting trans people's experiences of ageing and aged care and developing a guide to trans inclusive services and a resource kit for service providers. The project was coordinated by ARCSHS in partnership with Transgender Victoria and FTM Shed and was funded by the Department of Social Services
An extra degree of difficulty (2015): chief investigator on a project that documented carers experiences and utilised this evidence base to develop a practice guide and resource kit. The project was conducted by ARCSHS in partnership with Carers Australia and was funded by the Department of Social Services
Appropriate bodies and other damn lies (2015): chief investigator for a project that documented intersex people's experiences of ageing and aged care and utilised this evidence to develop a guide to intersex inclusive services and a resource kit for service provider education. The project was conducted by ARCSHS in partnership with OII and was funded by the Department of Social Services
Aged Care Assessment (2015): researcher on project documenting Aged Care Assessor's understandings of LGBTI inclusive assessment and working in partnership with assessors to develop assessment guide sheets
National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Conference (2014, 2015): coordinated Australia's first National LGBTI Ageing and Aged Care Conference focusing on the experiences and needs of older LGBTI Australians - successfully supported 33% of speakers LGBTI Elders
The HACC Pack (2014): coordinated the development of a guide to LGBTI inclusive HACC services in partnership with HACC service providers. Project funded by the Department of Health, Victoria
No need to straighten up (2013): chief investigator for a project commissioned by beyondblue that produced a report on older LGBTI people's experiences of discrimination and the impact on anxiety and depression. Research conducted by ARCSHS in partnership with Curtin University
Rainbow Tick (2013): project coordinator at Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria developing the Rainbow Tick standards, indicators and guide to practice
How2 Create and LGBTI Inclusive Service (2012): developed a 12 month program of series of workshops coaching service providers through the practical steps involved in becoming LGBTI inclusive. Program has now been established in three other states. Funded by Department of Social Services to develop an aged care specific version - which has now been taken up in four states
Val's Cafe (2009): established Val's Cafe at ARCSHS to promote the health and wellbeing of older LGBTI Australians. Built the project to a successful website funded by GALFA (see: valscafe.org.), over 600 members and core government funding
Permission to speak (2009)
My People (2008): chief researcher for Matrix Guild of Victoria and Vintage Men Inc documenting LGBT people's experiences of aged care services. Project funded by Reichstein Foundation
Permission to speak (2008): chief researcher for Matrix Guild of Victoria and Vintage Men Inc documenting aged care service providers experiences and perceptions about caring for LGBTI clients. Project funded by Reichstein Foundation
Sexual boundaries policy (2016): developed a policy for home care services to ensure clear guidance for staff around sexual boundaries in home care
Sexual boundaries education tool kit (2016): developed a suite of educational resources for service providers to educate home care workers on sexual boundaries
Sexual expression (residential aged care)
Sexuality policy (2016): developed policy on sexuality for residential aged care and a resource kit for the education of service providers implementing the policy.
The Wellness Project (2002): researcher on a project led by the National Ageing Research Institute that documented aged care service providers knowledge and attitudes towards older people's sexuality and develop resources for change
Sexual Health Policy Committee (1990): founding member of a committee established to address client sexuality at North West Hospital
Sexual Health Policy (1998): nurse clinician working on project documenting resident, staff and relatives perspectives of resident sexuality. Project resulted in the development of Australia's first sexual health policy for age care and undertaken by Gerontological Professorial at La Trobe University and North West Hospital.
Sexuality after stroke Worked with the Stroke Network Victoria to support stroke clinicians address sexuality after stroke. Developed a 12 month program of workshops coaching clinicians through practice change. Outcomes included
Developed a staff survey tool to measure knowledge, attitudes and confidence addressing sexuality after stroke
Developed an organisational audit to measure key indicators of successful change
Developed an interdisciplinary guide to addressing sexuality after stroke
Mentored 6 organisations through successful changes to practice and edited a report on the project.
Sexually transmissible infections
Sex, Age and Me (2015 - current): Researcher on a project addressing the 58% increase in STIs amoungst older Australians. Project coordinated by ARCSHS and funded by the Australian Research Council.
Sexual Rights of Older People (in progress): Routledge
Barrett, C. Crameri, P, Latham, J.R. Whyte, C and Lambourne, S. The Perspectives of Lesbian, Gay and Trans (LGT*) People and their Partners on Living with Dementia. In Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Trans* Individuals Living with Dementia. Westwood, S and Price, E (eds). Routledge, London
Crameri, P; Barrett, C; Latham J.R. and Whyte, C (2015). Its more than sex and clothes. Culturally safe services for older lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people. Australasian Journal on Ageing. LGBTI Special Edition. 34(2). Pp. 21-25
Barrett, C; Crameri, P; Lambourne, J.R. and Whyte, C. (2015). Understanding the experiences and needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans Australians living with dementia and their partners. Australasian Journal on Ageing. LGBTI Special Edition. 34(2). Pp. 34-38
Latham, J.R. and Barrett, C. (2015) Appropriate bodies and other damn lies: Intersex ageing and aged care. Australasian Journal on Ageing. LGBTI Special Edition. 34(2). Pp. 19-20
Barrett, C, Crameri, P, Lambourne, S and Latham, J.R. (2015). ‘We are still gay’ … the needs of LGBT Australians living with dementia. Australian Journal of Dementia Care.
Barrett, C., Whyte, C., Comfort, J., Lyons, A., & Crameri, P. (2015). Social connection, relationships and older lesbian and gay people. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 30(1)(Special Issue), 131-142.
Lyons, A., Croy, S., Barrett, C., & Whyte, C. (2015). Growing old as a gay man: How life has changed for the gay liberation generation. Ageing and Society, 35(10), 2229-2250.
Leonard, W., Duncan, D. and Barrett, C. (2013). “What a difference a gay makes: The constitution of the ‘older gay man’” in Kampf, A., Marshall, Petersen, A. (eds.) Aging Men: Masculinities and Modern Medicine. London, Routledge.
Barrett, C (2011). Storyboarding: using the arts to promote the sexual health and emotional wellbeing of older Australians. Culture, Health and Sexuality. Supplemental volume. 13 (1).
Barrett, C (2011). Auditing organisational capacity to promote the sexual health of older people. Electronic Journal of Applied Psychology. 7(1): 31-36.
Barrett, C., Mitchell, A., Craig, L., Crock, L. (2010). Ready or not: Addressing stigma and promoting wellbeing of people living with HIV in aged-care. HIV Australia, 8(3), 35-37.
Australian Association of Gerontology
International Federation on Ageing
British Society of Gerontology.
The Celebrate Ageing Program and the OPAL Institute are guided by an executive of older people. These experts have been involved in Program design and review. There are currently 15 members and we hope that this will grow over time. The partnership with older people on the executive recognises their expertise and models the importance of respecting their expertise.
(c) 2016 OPAL Institute, part of the Celebrate Ageing Program