IFA 2018 Conference. Towards a Decade of Healthy Ageing, First Reflections.


After almost a year, promoting this event as a Conference Partner and waiting with anticipation to attend, the International Federation on Ageing 14th annual conference came to a close eleven days ago.

As usual with conferences that deliver an abundance of diverse subject matter content – speakers, workshops, symposiums, paper and poster presentations, I came away with so much to digest and only now ready to begin to share some first reflections.

Healthy Ageing was the headlined focus of this conference, and of course, at first thought one would ideally think that this should be of relevant concern for all people at any time in life’s journey. So when I told people I was going to this event, often the first reaction or response was along the lines of “oh yes, today’s problems with old age populations are going to be a big issue” – or  “ yes it is a worry, the cost of health care and those aging Boomers.”

Well I guess how you articulate the concept of “healthy ageing” depends on what lens you look through and where you think you are at on the life course when discussing ageing itself. Yet if you take a fast flip through the IFA conference program, it becomes clear that we are talking here about the multiple dimensions of a world already living with a larger older adult population, with as projected, an even greater percentage over the next decade of those over age 65. However, age 65 is an arbitrary number to start clumping an older population.

Hope for healthy aging in the purple stream

At the risk of going down a rabbit hole with that discussion, and all the attitudes and social inferences that can get entangled therein, let’s simply say that we can acknowledge that planet earth is living in an unprecedented era of greater longevity, now and into the foreseeable future. As commented on a couple of times at the conference, first by Dr. Lam Ching-Choi, Chair of the Hong Kong Elderly Commission – “ageing is not new, but longevity is.”

Catchy sound bite it is, though the very definition of aging, (and even how you spell it), has differing interpretations and realities. Listening through the conference, there were pragmatic conversations and deep philosophical discussion points alongside some idealistic dissertations, which flowed through four main streams, where topics ranged from social and health policy to the age-friendly movement and technology advances. All that and with all the other niche subjects considered, there was one stream that threaded persistently through everything, for me at least.

The theme, or purple stream in this conference program was titled as – “Addressing Inequalities”. How will hope for a future of healthy ageing present itself within marginalized groups of older citizens – older homeless, older LGBTQI, older migrants to name but three? Consider also those with low fixed incomes and living alone in developed and underdeveloped nations – healthy ageing throughout life is not experienced equally.

In my mind, in so many ways this purple stream automatically overlaid with the other theme, the orange stream – “Combating Ageism”. Here a number of sessions covered issues such as access to health and social care, abuse against older persons and social exclusion. Apparently, if you blend purple with orange you get a warm burnt sienna, but get any of these elements together wrong – older migrants facing no access to health care, for example – you get, imagine, a very harsh colour.

Healthy ageing, invent solutions that work best for your local diverse community

While there were many voices discussing inequalities, in session or conversations in between, I recall most, the voice of Dr. Alexandre Kalache, Co-President, International Longevity Centre Global Alliance (both on stage and asking questions in the audience). He more than once reminded us of how we must consider this harsh colour, while we move forward with all the marvelous advances in medical, technological and social innovations that we so highlighted and celebrated at this conference.

These are just some first reflections, with more thoughts to come over the next several months on some of the specific sessions I sat in on during the full three days. The individual presentations from global delegates leave me with one overall positive impression. While there are still thousands of people who are uninformed of the broad social impacts of a longevity society there are a good number of well-meaning people doing useful work on the ground who provide programs and services for healthy ageing, inventing solutions that work best for their local diverse communities.

A good conference is one that gives you lots of solid content, but a great conference on an international scale adds value by making you think – well, healthier perhaps and connects you with great people; thus for me, IFA 2018 was in the category of great.

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