South Island Symposium on Ageing 5th Nov. 2011, at Otago Polytechnic

By: New Zealand Association Of Gerontology  05-Apr-2012

November 5th was marked in a somewhat different way: fireworks were verbal, rather than actual, in a successful symposium on issues related to older people.

This one-day symposium was hosted by Otago Polytechnic, and led by Dr Linda Robertson of the Occupational Therapy Department and Beatrice Hale, independent researcher. It attracted an audience of thirty-four, with others keen to come but unable to do so on that date.

Presentations were rich and varied. They included research into early ageing, with Anna Thorpe discussing mid-life attitudes towards ageing and the elderly. Rhonda Schlaadt explored different meaning of retirement, contrasting historical meaning with a different meaning for retirement in the future. Dr Chris Perkins, from the Selwyn Centre for Ageing and Spirituality, discussed the spirituality of older people and the importance of acknowledging this. She emphasized the need for assessment of spiritual need, and further emphasized that this must not be neglected.

Next was a group of presentations on the consequences of the Christchurch earthquake. Michael Annear provided examples of his work with earthquake victims and their expressions of vulnerability. The topic then moved on to examples of resilience, with a focus on the relocation of older people from Canterbury residential facilities to facilities round the South Island from the work of Claire Heppenstall, (presented by Sally Keeling) and a local Dunedin initiative from Beatrice Hale. High on the list of essential learning was how to ensure relocated older people were made to feel welcome, comfortable and integrated with host facilities, and Beatrice talked of the skills of care staff in achieving this.

Quality indicators and choices were two other significant papers. The first, from ongoing research by Dr Chrys Jaye of the Dept of General Practice, Otago Medical School, examined ‘Quality’ in long term residential care, exploring definitions and issues, with preliminary results on what quality care looks like. The second, on individualised funding, explored the need and wish for increased choice and control over how older people with disabilities can use their support allocations, and choice of who provides that support. Penny Hambleton presented moving stories of older clients who were able to age successfully in place, due to the individualised funding agency.

Different and innovative research methods were presented by psychology researcher Barbara Horrell and Mary Butler. Barbara set up an internet discussion group for carers nationwide to discuss caring issues for older people with dementia. She observed that the internet was a collaborative and participatory approach, to make sure that the carers’ voices were at the forefront. The first phase of the study involved creating an online forum for informal carers throughout New Zealand to talk about their experience of caring for older people. The purpose of the forum was to enable carers to identify which capabilities (Nussbaum, 2000; Sen, 1980) they consider are important for maintaining their wellbeing.

Mary Butler presented Photovoice as a method in the Quality of Care study already discussed by Chrys Jaye. She emphasized that this was participatory research, giving a camera to a resident to photograph what he/she considered to be quality care. The ethics of this method were discussed, with the issues of camera work and the feelings of intrusiveness on the one hand, and interest and attention on the other.

The symposium finished with participants expressing their interest and sense of value from all the presentations, and suggesting that similar days be held, with topics to be considered through internet connections. Preference was for single days, at say, six monthly intervals, rather than monthly meetings.

Everyone expressed their appreciation of the good work from Julie Butler of the Alzheimers Society for the plentiful and excellent food throughout the day. The organising committee decided that, after expenses were paid, the remainder of the money should be donated to the Alzheimers Society.

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