EXPERTS specialising in ageing gathered in Perth recently for the 50th Australian Association of Gerontology conference.
The theme was Ageing: the golden opportunity, and built on the concept that an ageing population is a valuable resource.
Organising committee chairman Keith Hill delivered the welcome address and was awarded life membership of the association for his contribution to the field.
Professsor Hill is only the such recipientipient in the association’s 50 years.
He said the biggest issue facing seniors was the negative image of ageing in the wider community.
“Comments like ‘a tsunami of ageing’ make it sound like a disaster is around the corner,” he said.
“In Japan, around 26 per cent of the population is over 65. It is not the end of the world for Japan, though they have had to make a lot of adjustments.
“Here about 15 per cent of the population are over 65 so we have time to make adjustments and come up with better ways to celebrate and work with the ageing population.”
Professsor Hill said older people make huge contributions to society through work, volunteering and caring for partners and grandchildren.
“We need to maximise the ability for people in their 70s, 80s and 90s to stay active, keep a positive perspective and stay connected wherever they are along the spectrum of health and wellbeing.”
More work also needed to be done to streamline and consolidate the fragmented health and care system.
The head of the School of Physiotherapy and Exercise Science at Curtin University, Professsor Hill said there have been immense changes since he joined the association in the 1990s.
For example, there was now greater recognition of dementia and how to manage it and awareness of areas such as falls prevention.
“Across the board there is a lot happening today, especially with technology.
“One area is looking at improving cognitive and physical function through the application of transcranial magnetic stimulation.”
Professsor Hill’s own research involves investigating the use of a new sensor system that can be programmed to detect movements that might increase a person’s risk of falling.
It can alert health professionals if a patient is undertaking an activity that could lead to a fall and include an alarm if the person is supposed to be using a walking aid but starts to walk without one.
The system, called the Ambient Intelligent Geriatric Management (AmbIGeM), will be trialled as part of a collaboration with Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, The Queen Elizabeth Hospital and the University of Adelaide.
The project is funded by a $1.6 million NHMRC grant.
Other topics covered at the conference included the health issues faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, tackling ageism, laughter therapy, baby boomers’ sexual health in residential aged care and evaluation of successful ageing among older people in China.