Churchill Fellowship recipient Dr Mike Rungie wants to redefine retirement in Australia.
The chief executive of not-for-profit aged care provider ACH told a gathering of Wollongong business leaders on Thursday morning that older people wanted real roles, not just entertainment.
Dr Rungie said it was time for Australians to set aside "ageist attitudes" at the Seniors Week event at IRT Links Seaside.
"At ACH we have been measuring the quality of life of older people in all our services for the past 10 years," he said.
"We know care quality is good at our services, but we've found that life quality is struggling - many older people have feelings of isolation or boredom and a general lack of purpose.
"Governments, older people, aged care providers like ACH and IRT, and communities across the nation need to start imagining and talking about engagement for people in their seventies, eighties and nineties.
"They need to be asking older people questions like 'Do you want to be employed, do you want to be a volunteer or a student, do you want to set up a new enterprise?' - in much the same way we ask younger people these questions."
Dr Rungie spent two months in North America and Europe in 2012 as part of his Churchill Fellowship, researching how older people were staying actively involved in communities.
In Massachusetts he visited the Vita Needle Company where the average age of workers is 74, and Lasell College, which combines senior independent living and continuing education.
"Early adopters like these are providing a vision of what can be achieved," he said. "There's benefits for the individual, and the entire community."
Dr Rungie's talk was the first of IRT's Speaker Series, which will see experts talk about issues that affect older people.