'Elder not Older' conference next week

'Elder not Older' conference next week

'Elder not Older' conference next week

A one-day conference on issues related to aging will cap a six-month project highlighting the positive role older people play in society.

Elder Not Older: Older People as Community Assets, runs from 11am to 4pm, on Friday, February 4th, at Gallagher's Hotel in Letterkenny. Registration starts at 10.30 am. Admission is free and includes a complementary lunch.

For the past six months the Older People as Community Assets Project, the work of the Health Service Executive (HSE) North-West and the Donegal Peace and Reconciliation Partnership, has worked with six senior groups across the county to explore relevant issues, to challenge established thinking and to encourage a bigger-picture approach to redefining perceptions toward aging in modern society.

Next week's one-day conference will examine the issues raised by the project, with presentations from guest speakers and project participants. Keynote speakers will be Mairead Bushnell, national president of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, and Ciaran McKinney, director of operations for Age & Opportunity Ireland.

Derek O'Connor, the project coordinator, is also compiling a report that will include recommendations to complement work already being done. "One thing it comes down to is information - creating opportunities for collaboration and communication and that's what we're trying to work toward," he said.

There is a lot going on. Derek pointed to an active age group in Buncrana the project worked with that was started two years ago by two seniors who saw a need. Within a year more than 80 people were coming regularly. The project also worked with seniors at family resource centres in Donegal Town, Castlefin and Moville, at Pobail le Chile in Falcarragh and at Cara House in Letterkenny.

"So much work goes into them on a week-by-week basis, keeping the groups going," Derek said.

The point of the project has been to listen and accumulate information. As part of the work, they brought artist Michael Fortune to Donegal to video members of the senior groups as they interviewed each other. There were also two networking days that brought the six groups together. Donegal can be "a big divide to cross sometimes," Derek said.

The project complements the more holistic approach to health that the HSE North-West has been taking, including a return to community gardens and some of the old ways.

"Basically they're teaching people to grow stuff again and there is a huge senior input there," Derek said. "Things like the ‘lost art of the visit' - people just don't visit any more. There are all these traditions, big and small, that you just take for granted. They are all there to be cherished, and these people have the knowledge.

"In every community you have this invaluable resource, which is older people," he said. "Communities are still very strong and Donegal is very lucky in that way. It is something to be appreciated and cherished."

As an example, he said that when there is an emergency - a flood, for example - "all of a sudden you see people out helping each other and it comes very strongly back to community."

Space at the conference is limited and attendance must be confirmed before February 1st by email to donegalelders@gmail.com, or by phone to 0879739446.