Ageing and Intergenerational Relations Conference

  • Robyn McDonald
Senior Citizens

Professor Ng, assembled guests,

Thank you for the opportunity to join you all for what promises to be a very interesting two day of thought-provoking discussion on some important topics.

Leafing through the conference programme last week I was absorbed by the range of topics being presented and discussed at this conference. I am looking forward to joining you for as long as possible today to hear about the work being done in these important social areas of intergenerational relationships and positive ageing.

I note that some familiar faces are participating in this conference over the next two days and I hope to meet up while I'm here.

Tena Koe to our homegrown key note speaker Mason Drurie, Head of the Department of Maori Studies at Massey University. And a warm welcome to New Zealand to our overseas key note speakers, Leon Earle and Hal Kendig from Australia.

I am also delighted this is the second conference to be held on intergenerational relationships. Continued debate and discussion on this topic is essential if we are to create a greater awareness of the value that can be gained from bringing the ideas and experiences of older and younger people together to address the issues we all face as we head into the next millennium. My congratulations go to Professor Ng and his team in putting together these important meetings.

In October the United Nations Year of Older Persons will be launched. This is surely an ideal opportunity to refocus attention on the changing roles of older people in our society as we head into the new millennium.

Huge advances in the area of health care and science have offered us the chance to live fuller lives for longer. This opportunity has brought its own challenges as we learn to change our preconceptions about the contribution senior citizens make in the community and how they are supported and support themselves.

When I was looking at the programme I was pleased to see presentations will be made from a wide cross-section of professionals, older people and cultures in this conference.

Like the rest of the world, New Zealand has a wide and diverse range of cultures who all approach the issue of ageing in different ways. Recently I have been talking with groups of Maori and Pacific older people around New Zealand about the issues they are facing and the services they want and telling them about the support and opportunities available to them. It is fills me with hope to look at these cultures and see older people being recognised for their wisdom and experience and integrated into the community.

Generally European-based cultures struggle with the changing place and role of older people in the community and can learn from the Maori and Pacific Island communities.

Today our society has become more mobile and more dispersed. It is easy for young people to grow and develop without the support or guidance of an older person such as a grandparent close at hand. The only perceptions many of these young people form of older people comes from the negative images of older people portrayed through the media.

Many older people now lead active, rich, diverse and fulfilling lives in their later years continuing to play a part in the development of our society.

Older people are contributing to the development of our nation in a wide variety of ways. While they may have left the paid workforce, many older people are involved in the community through a range of roles such as employees, volunteers,

family members, caregivers, committee and trust members, komatua and members of the community. Their time and experience enriching our communities and society. Much of this work goes unnoticed and unheralded.

Intergenerational programmes are a powerful strategy to help change attitudes about ageing. Bringing older and younger people together to share experiences and wisdom can only be a positive step in helping people understand each other and the world we live in.

At the same time intergenerational programmes are a sign of a maturing society where people are open to differing views be they based on culture or age.

I can liken this to being part of a Coalition Government. This Government is about bringing different political perspectives together to find the best solution for this country. Finding a place of common understanding takes an open mind and compromise. It is a sign of maturity in Government that two parties can work together in this way to steer New Zealand into a more robust future.

The same can be said for intergenerational programmes. Both young and older people have unique perspectives to bring to the development of our country and it is understanding and compromise that will produce the results we need to make the most of the opportunities open to us at this time.

I am glad to see that there are strong and exciting intergenerational programmes currently underway in this country. My Senior Citizens Unit has been either providing or supporting these programmes and I'd like to touch on some of the work being done in this area.

The Senior Citizens Unit is currently working closely with older peoples groups and other government agencies to develop guidelines for intergenerational programmes. The guidelines will offer a structured approach to recruiting, training and supporting volunteers to ensure all parties gain the most from their efforts.

These guidelines are based on existing programmes which have been developed by schools and communiy groups around the country.

For example, Age Concern Hamilton, has developed some strong intergenerational initiatives to bring older and younger people together.

One programme you'll hear about today involves bringing older people in Hamilton and local students together to communicate and support each other. The students are visiting house-bound older people, and senior citizens are being invited to join in local school activities ranging from pre-school through to secondary school.

Another exciting programme you'll hear about today is happening in Parkway College, Wainuiomata. While this programme was not developed primarily as an

intergenerational programme it is bringing the generations together in the classroom. Older people are learning with young people and acting as their advocates in the school.

Encouraging these kinds of intergenerational interaction can only improve understanding and awareness between the generations.

One initiative which is continuing to prove successful is the Age Concern Hamilton's Wrinkle In Time resource kit. This kit promotes positive ageing through a display, video and resource material that has been purchased by schools keen to assist them in establishing their own intergenerational programmes. So far well over 100 kits have been sold to schools. Feedback on this resource has been extremely positive. My Unit also undertakes a regular event each year to promote intergenerational understanding. The Great and Grands month takes place in October and the Unit offers advice and support to schools to establish a range of activities encourages young and old to come together to understand and appreciate each other more fully.

All of these programmes give young people the opportunity to see older people as the vital, interesting and immensely productive members of society they are. This can only be good for young people in learning to value older people and benefit from their wisdom and experience and for older people to feel positive about their place in the community.

Positive ageing is vital to the health of our nation. We need to feel good about growing older. Intergenerational programmes provide younger people with a positive view of ageing. That it is a time to explore and diversify your life and continue to contribute to society in new and interesting ways.

Feeling positive and looking forward to growing older is good for everyone. For senior citizens positive ageing can offer sustained independence, new friendships, intellectual stimulation good health and self-fulfillment.

For society it can lead to a happier healthier ageing population which in turn will create an enriched society as older people contribute their wealth of expertise and skills to the community and the workforce. This will also place less demands on the nation's social services. Positive ageing offers young people positive role models and access to learned life skills, creating strong citizens for the future.

However changes need to be made to ensure positive ageing can occur. We need to make it possible for older people to contribute and be secure.

From 1 February 1999, compulsory retirement on the basis of age will be prohibited. Older people have much to contribute to the workforce in terms of skills and historical experience that can enhance and support current management practices.

Financial security is also an important component of positive ageing. To enjoy life in older years it is vital to be financially secure. The work of the Office of the Retirement Commissioner is essential to supporting and encouraging future generations of older people to prepare for their retirement so they can be assured of maintaining a reasonable and secure standard of living.

With that I will now make way for Leon Earle. I wish you every success with this important conference.

Book launch notes
As I said earlier this conference builds on the goals and achievements of the last conference in 1996.

The 1996 conference aimed to rediscover the positive points about ageing. As we all know, this is a huge task in a world more focused on the costs and disabilities of ageing rather than the positive aspect sof growing older.

The 1996 conference heard from a wide range of speakers who looked at intergenerational and cross-cultural impacts of ageing.

It is safe to say that the previous conference played a part in progressing the change in attitudes and perceptions that society has toward senior citizens.

Now the papers presented at that conference have been compiled into this very smart resource, Ages Ahead.

This is an invaluable resource to blow away the stereotypes of ageing some people have in their own lives and towards those around them. It's mixture of case studies, academic research and personal accounts makes it a valuable learning and life tool as well as being an excellent read!

As Dr. Margaret Guthrie says in her forward, hopefully this is only the first volume in a series of books on this area drawn from future conferences. The second volume is hopefully happening around us and I look forward to seeing the continuing results of this work.

Congratulations to Professor Ng, Ann Weatherall, James Lui and Cynthia Loong on this marvelous book.