HomeBlogBuilding environments where we can grow old. Summary of the BSG 2018 conference.

Building environments where we can grow old. Summary of the BSG 2018 conference.

Last week two of the Matia Institute's researchers, Elena del Barrio and Sara Marsillas, travelled to the English city of Manchester to participate in the 47th Conference of the British Society of Gerontology. This is a brief summary of what they experienced and what they wanted to share with all of us.

Our English journey
Back home we want to tell you a few words about what we saw between the 4th and 6th of July at the annual conference organised by the British Society of Gerontology, which this year was held at the University of Manchester.

This year the theme of the event was: "Ageing in an Unequal World Shaping Environments for the 21st Century", that is, in a world full of inequalities, how can we shape and design environments where we can enjoy a good old age? In this way, the bulk of the work presented was related to issues such as social exclusion, friendly environments, loneliness or inequality in economic terms. There was also a notable presence of papers on fragility, dementia and care in the home.

Friendliness makes its way internationally
Matia Instituto's premiere was given by Elena at a symposium entitled: "Crossnational perspectives on age-friendly initiatives", where she gave a talk on the Euskadi Lagunkoia project, the network of friendly cities in the Basque Country. Elena, reviewed the history of the initiative and its key characteristics, as well as aspects of its development, at a local and territorial level (thread of her intervention on twitter).

In this same symposium, we also had the opportunity to learn about other international experiences in friendliness from countries such as Belgium, Canada, Ireland and the United Kingdom. In her speech, Samuèle Rémillard-Boilard compared the progress made in Brussels (Belgium), Manchester (United Kingdom) and Montreal (Canada). Myriam Leleu and her colleagues presented the participatory research programme in the Walloon Region (Belgium), which consisted of a complementary approach of spatial observations and qualitative interviews led by older people under the supervision of a sociologist and two architects. Bernard McDonald presented a study on the experiences of older people in two cities in County Fingal (Ireland).

During the congress we could attend several symposiums dedicated to friendliness, which shows the increasing relevance of this topic in the field of gerontology. Some of the most outstanding approaches that we were able to see were the works of:

Building Age-friendly Cities: A Manifesto for Change
One of the most interesting conferences on the future of friendliness was that of Christopher Phillipson who, together with Tine Buffel from the University of Manchester, presented the Manifesto for Change: Development of the AF Cities and Communities project. Some of the challenges in the friendliness movement highlighted in the manifesto are: the impact of the economics of austerity on local authorities, the approach to working with socially excluded groups, the need to respond to some urban development pressures such as the gentrification of cities, the growing intergenerational tensions due to the shortage of affordable housing, and the existence of the impact of ageism and stereotypes on older people.

This same material concludes with the need to advance in the movement of friendliness by working on diversity, including different people such as people in situations of dependency, ethnic minorities, people with cognitive impairment, etc. This material concludes with the need to advance in the friendliness movement working on diversity, including different people such as people in a situation of dependency, ethnic minorities, people with cognitive impairment, etc.; involving this diversity of people as co-researchers, with an active role in the whole process; and developing a multi-sectoral collaboration that also includes other movements such as "smart-cities", healthy cities or sustainable cities, including new issues in the friendliness movement that take into account energy efficiency, pollution reduction or responses to the impact of climate change.

"Dear Solitude, couldn't we just get along?"
With this suggestive question, Sara Marsillas entitled her oral communication on a project on solitude that has been developed with the support of the Basque Government's Department of Employment and Social Policy. In this project we have explored strategies for positive or at least non-negative management of loneliness together with elderly people and professionals in contact with lonely people. The people who attended this session in Manchester showed their interest in both the approach and the methodology used.  (thread of their intervention on twitter)

In this same session, Vinal Karania (Age UK) and Royce Turner (University of Huddersfield) presented an interesting paper entitled "Perspectives on social isolation and loneliness", which referred to a theoretical framework explaining meaningful interaction as an element in understanding the nature and experience of social isolation and loneliness in old age.  If this communication talked a lot about urban and physical elements of the environment, in "Culturally diverse experiences of social connectedness and befriending services", presented by Merryn Gott, it focuses on the importance of incorporating the cultural side to initiatives that seek to improve situations of undesired loneliness.

In the same way that we pointed out the outstanding presence of works on friendliness, the theme "loneliness" was also widely commented on in numerous sessions and symposia throughout this congress, which highlights its growing importance. Among the most interesting contributions were the following:


Different solitudes, different looks
With regard to loneliness, we were struck by the number of communications that focused on its negative consequences, such as premature death or early work disability. We found of great interest the contributions referring to a normalizing perspective, which calls for not blaming single people, nor the medicalization of loneliness. In this sense, we saw various experiences and projects that aim to improve the situation of people who feel lonely in an innovative way, unifying services, adapting to the cultural characteristics of the region or incorporating the community into it.

What became clear to us, after reflection, research and sharing experiences with other researchers, is that feelings of loneliness, when prolonged and without effective strategies adapted to people's situation to manage them, negatively affect well-being. These feelings, although not unique to old age, in the case of older people can be more intense, prolonged and affect various spheres of life in a negative way, even more so when combined with other circumstances, such as living alone, health problems, widowhood and problems with housing and/or area friendliness.

We reinforce the premise that it is possible to live alone and well, but of course, this requires interventions in individual, community and environmental aspects accompanied by prevention, awareness, normalisation and guidance. And to do all this we need to work together for the well-being of people.

Looking to the future...
Now that we are back and assessing what we have experienced, it has undoubtedly been a very positive experience, in which we have been able to learn first-hand about many projects that are being carried out in different parts of the planet, with one objective: to improve the well-being of people who are getting older. We hope to return in 2019, and bring new work to share to an event that will take place in Liverpool and which is already entitled: "Resilience and living well in local communities".

Until then, we hope to see you in Vitoria this coming 14th September at the 2nd European Good Practices Conference on Euskadi Lagunkoia with Alex Kalache, Fiona Murphy, Stephen Johnston... See you soon!



Researcher at Matia Instituto


Researcher at Matia Institute

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