Friday 14 September 2012

The ups and downs of later life

This week I attended the annual conference of the Association for Education & Ageing (AEA) that was run in conjunction with the Beth Johnson Foundation. AEA are particularly interested in research, practice and policy related to life long learning.

 The morning keynote was given by Paul Kingstone (Staffordshire University) who spoke about education and mental health in later life. In his keynote Paul challenged the traditional images and explanations of the lifecourse and instead introduced us to the Socioemotive Selectivity Theory (SST). In introducing this theory he argued that in later life as people experience losses and declines in later life (the downs), the sense of that remaining life is finite motivates people to seek gains in emotional and social interactions and and relationship with others (the ups), that 'off set' the losses and declines experienced. In the context of the AEA conference this was of great interest as it helped us all think more carefully about why funding and support for lifelong learning can make an important contribution to quality of later life.

 Paul also challenged us to think about how we construct curriculums of education for people working in health and social care. He questioned the value of curriculums based on traditional theories of biology, psychology and sociology and argued instead that if workers are to know and value ageing, curriculums should draw on philosophy, spiritiuality, the arts, history and intergenerational learning. As a nurse and a university academic I found Paul's keynote very thought provoking as it highlighted how traditional ways of thinking about later life and ageing lead to being more focused on what is lost, not was is gained.

I was joined at the conference by Stephanie Warren from Senior Voice (who are supported by Age UK MIlton Keynes). We gave a joint presentation about our work on The Lifelong Learning Project OPT-in. The presentation was very well received.

 The highlight of the afternoon was the AGM of AEA where I am pleased to be able to report our own Dr Jonathan Hughes was elected as Chairperson.

 As we reflected on the ups and downs of ageing that had been shared through the day, one on the conference attendees, an older woman, said that we should not always think of the ups as good and the downs as bad. She commented that when she goes walking she looks forward to the point of the walk when the leader says 'Its down hill all the way now', and in life she was enjoying going down the hill.

 A very enjoyable and thought provoking conference which I hope some of you may attend next year.

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