International Federation on Ageing

The International Federation on Ageing (IFA) conference was held in Montreal 4-7 September 2008. Scheduled every two years, this is the third conference I have been able to attend and once again, I appreciated the opportunity to “plug in” to global thinking on ageing societies. In fact, the various conference presentations offered an embarrassment of riches, and it was tough choosing one topic over another. Summarising the information I gained is equally difficult, but here goes:

The over-riding concern, regardless of the nationality of the presenter, was how to help the vulnerable aged to live out their lives with dignity, and in a secure environment.

In Australia we have noted that the current age pension is woefully inadequate for those trying to live even a “modest” lifestyle. Yet our worries pale into insignificance when compared with more populous nations such as India, where there are 81 million elderly people 51 million of whom are living in poverty, and 90% have no social security whatsoever. This problem is exacerbated by the breakdown of the traditional family unit in India, with more and more younger people seeking work in the cities – and leaving their parents to fend for themselves.

The opening address at the conference was presented by Mr. Robert Butler, author of The Longevity Revolution. He rued the fact that the current US presidential campaign seemed focused on the rivalry of the candidates with an emphasis on their style, and that neither candidate was talking about the ageing of society at all. Yet this demographic wave will have profound implications for all of us – young and old – during the next 50 years.

One general observation from most conference participants was the critical importance of participation for older people – be it participation in work, in politics, in relationships, in local communities, on the wider world stage. Yet to participate fully you need first to feel secure. Robert Butler noted that the future belongs to those who prepare for it and those able to have a productive engagement with their society. Yet not all have an equal sense of security nor ability to productively engage.

Some good news came from presentations on the Age Friendly Cities program, and it was heartening to see how many Australian local governments are improving facilities for older residents. Technology is also playing a huge role in keeping older people “connected” to families, governments and medical services. Many designers are also working on age-friendly solutions to keep older workers in the workforce in a more comfortable environment. There were few surprises on the medical front – regular exercise and sensible nutrition continues to be the best way to keep healthy, despite any genetic predisposition to chronic illnesses.
And despite all the information we have received on the perils of tobacco over the past few decades, smoking is still the number one preventable cause of death.

For information on The International Federation on Ageing, click here.