Final observations and comments about the National Institute on Ageing (NIA) November 2016 conference – Re-think Ageing. If you were new to the subject of ageing and longevity and attended the conference, it would have been a good thing as it served well as a primer, encompassing multiple facets structured around the four pillars in the National Seniors Strategy for Canada.
As one who takes part in this ageing and longevity conversation through the course of your professional work, then you would have walked away from the conference reminded of the fact, that each of the threads in this discussion are interwoven with the other. You can’t talk about health ageing without considering social engagement, and you can’t mention that without being concerned about community design or social programs for caregiving.
Like many I met at this event, you were one who either serves the public directly, as a business or non-profit, or one who runs an institute, academic, policy development organization, or as I do, as a researcher, advisor, speaker and blogger. You may have a niche area of practice or interest but you likely have an understanding of the macro view.
And this was one of the benefits of this first NIA conference: meeting people who have a shared enthusiasm for the subject matter, in all its diversity. I only wish the format of the breakouts had provided more time for quality interaction, time to confer. Having planned and orchestrated conferences over the years, the lesson is that big isn’t always better.
Perhaps the NIA can hold smaller half-day events where components of a re-think ageing program provoke ideas that translate to practical, inter-generational participation out in the community. Three quick Day One personal highlights – amusing, empathic and celebratory:
- The panel on Healthy & Active Lives was a quirky trio that didn’t quite fulfill the sweeping description in the write-up. A municipal politician from Ottawa on their age-friendly initiatives, a physician talking about the importance of exercise in ageing well, and a professor from a faculty of nursing breaking down the myths and taboos around sexuality and ageing. Now there’s an interesting odd mix, but it works if it’s memorable. When it came to responses from the audience, no one directed a question about sexuality to the professor, Dr. Lori Schindel-Martin, yet her presentation was the most informative and interesting of the three.
- At the end of the day, over wine and nibbles at the networking reception, I spoke with two wonderful gentlemen, one of whom said, when I asked what brought him to the conference, that it was out of personal interest. His wife has Alzheimer’s. After a full day discussion around healthy active ageing and such, this personal story from a very private man really punctuated the emotional reality about re-thinking ageing.
- On the tail of that exchange, I sat in for the presentation of the Positive Ageing Award to Torontonian, Frances Chapkin (scroll to her bio). Active at age 90 (I believe), Chapkin warmly shared her story at length, which in many ways reflected not only her drive and concern for others, but her diverse contributions as, what you might be prone to say, a community activist. Her comments about generational concerns were heartening to hear.
All in, the first NIA conference was well worth attending and based on its partnership with the International Federation of Ageing (IFA), it served as a great prelude to the IFA global conference also in Toronto in 2018. Let’s see what advances we can make before then in our re-think ageing dialogue, as part of the broader social changes in society we have yet to see to the full extent we might expect, positive or otherwise.