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Thoughts and Observations From Two Conferences on Aging

Thoughts and Observations From Two Conferences on Aging

By Susan Williams

This past August I had the opportunity to attend two conferences on aging; Aging 2.0‘s – Brain Health Forum and the International Federation of Ageing’s (IFA) International Conference of Ageing. Both were held in Toronto, Canada.

The amount of information and research shared at both of these events was quite astounding.

Here are just a few of the highlights of what I learned and observed;

Aging Can Be Incredible

When Hazel McCallion stepped up to the mic on the main stage, her energy just filled the theatre.

At age 97, Hazel holds the position of CEO (Chief Elder Officer) at Revera and now spends her time visiting Revera residents and talking with them about how they are enjoying their lives, how they are being treated and basically connecting with the residents.

Hazel moved into this position after retiring from being the Mayor of a major Canadian city for 36 years. She also mentioned that she only went into politics at the age of 55 after having had an extensive business career.

Hazel’s enthusiasm for life and inspiring message brought the audience to a standing ovation. She also shared some advice for living life well; “A life of purpose is caring for yourself and caring for others“.

Wise words Hazel.

There Are Many Dedicated and Passionate People Focused on Aging

At the IFA Conference alone there were over 1300 delegates from 77 countries attending this conference. Couple this with how many others from their organizations that were not in attendance tells me there are many, many talented and dedicated people focused on the topic of aging.

At each session along with the people I met, you could not help but feel their desire and determination to make a difference to people’s lives as they age.

Technology in Aging is Big

I lost count of all the technology solutions for aging that I saw. From care robots to sensors, meditation devices to a multitude of apps – technology in aging is big.

And this industry is exciting.

But as I looked at all these new innovations that are coming down the pipe, I think there is a major thought that we need to continually remind ourselves though.

Also Read; Technology for Aging – This Could Be A Slippery Slope

I thought Jody Holtzman from Longevity Venture Advisors said it best, “Technology has to adapt to people, not have people adapt to technology.” .

We Have Some Major Challenges Ahead

This is probably no surprise but when it comes to aging – there are many challenges ahead. With a population aging faster than services and support may be available, there are some very high hurdles to jump in front of us. These are just a few;

Elder Care Worker Shortage

We are already struggling with a care worker shortage and we haven’t even started to see the demand that baby boomers will begin to place on the system. I think what we may be missing is how large of a problem this is poised to be and in a relatively short period of time.

For example, Japan is slightly ahead of the curve and has one of the largest aging populations worldwide. In one session that I participated in, Dr. Gloria Gutman shared a statistic from Japan of how the ratio of care workers to older people is moving from 6:1 in 1990 down to 2:1 in 2025.

Without some significant focus on this arena in either transforming how services are delivered and deploying resources differently or attracting and retaining more professionals in this field, this situation could become quite dire and happen very fast.

Inequalities and Diversity in Aging

One of the benefits to participating in international conferences is hearing how other countries, regions and even cities are dealing with their challenges. One thing is for sure – we are not all the same.

From poverty, to culture, to government support, to identity – diversity in life is reflected in diversity in aging. So one size does not fit all.

It became very clear that the people who are developing solutions for aging need to remember this and not try to shoe horn single solutions for diverse needs.

Don’t Develop Solutions And Leave the People They Are Meant For Behind

In a few sessions I attended, it became abundantly clear that for any solution developed, the people they are being designed for must be involved.

In one session, a gentleman who was diagnosed with dementia gave this advice for researchers and care providers; “…(you) have to get into my brain, into my world to hear what I have to live with… don’t feel sorry for me – include me”.

In another session, another gentleman shared, “Seniors aren’t afraid of technology. They just need to be educated on how to use it.”.

As well, we need to try and not over complicate things.

As one care worker suggested in one of the sessions, they were grateful for the significant investment in  programs and initiatives however asked how could they just get some small funds to pay for a taxi to get someone they support to a healthcare appointment or money to enroll them in a community program to reduce their isolation.

These examples  highlighted that sometimes solutions to improve lives can be pretty simple – we just have to ask – and be ready to listen.

As much as we can often believe that we know what’s best for older people, they need to be asked along with the people that directly support them to make sure that it actually is.

Older People – The Untapped, Growing and Underused Resource

I just loved this statement shared by Dr. Alexandre Kalache, in his presentation; “Older people, the only natural resource that will keep growing in the 21st century“.

It’s true. With all this available resources becoming available, we really need to transform how we think and view older people and what they are capable of doing. I was pleased to see a number of different programs and initiatives starting to focus on this but as Dr. John Beard said in his opening address, “Nothing is going to be possible unless we address ageism”.

What’s Next?

At both of these conferences, I was extremely fortunate to have met a number of people that highlighted topics that I think we all could be better educated about. As a result, we will be connecting with them to bring some specific information and resources back to you.

On a personal note, these conferences also reinforced to me that I am speeding towards old age. As one gentleman at the conference said (and I apologize as I’m not sure exactly who to credit for this statement but thought the comment was excellent), “Aging has always been a human experience, longevity has not“.

So, I would like to thank all the dedicated people who are out there working on my behalf to help me age with vigor, purpose and passion. I imagine that there may be times when you wonder whether you are making a difference – and I want to let you know you are. What you are doing is important.

Please keep going. Even if I personally don’t get the opportunity to experience some of the benefits of what you are doing, I hope that this will be a legacy that we have the opportunity to support so that the generations that follow will.

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Susan Williams is the Founder of Booming Encore. Being a Boomer herself, Susan loves to discover and share ways to live life to the fullest. She shares her experiences, observations and opinions on living life after 50 and tries to embrace Booming Encore's philosophy of making sure every day matters.