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Yesterday I attended a conference on Aged Care Policy at Australia’s top university, The Australian National University, with many of its senior staff members attending plus a couple of overseas expert visitors. I was so disappointed with the standard. Three of the speakers didn’t use power point which, given that approximately 75% of the population learn visually, meant that many of the audience were disadvantaged. Even some of those who did use it misused it. The golden rule is to only have up to 7 lines of text on any slide- many presenters put as much as they can on a slide and keep on talking. I prefer to either listen or read- I find it difficult to do both at once. When graphs are used audiences should be given time to absorb anything other than a very simple graph and the speaker needs to explain what the graph is showing. I sometimes think that with some speakers the purpose of a slide is an attempt to impress the audience, not to actually tell them anything. At one point yesterday the convener of the session kept asking questions about a particular slide- obviously he was having problems with it too. Given his academic history the fault was obviously with the speaker. None of these errors makes for professional presentations. Those making them go to great lengths to research their fields but then try to explain their work to others through amateur presentations and don’t apply the same standard of professionalism to this latter aspect of their work. The result of yesterday’s conference was a missed opportunity for the audience to learn.

Needless to say this lack of professionalism lowered the tone of the conference. Add to this the invitation only seemed to have gone to a selected few people in academia and the members of the public service (I stumbled on it by accident) which obviously reduced the extent of contributions from the floor. Even though it was on Aged Care (and supposed to be a dialogue) there were few older people participating and apparently the invitation had not been extended to aged care providers so there were even fewer of them, if any. Aged Care is a huge and expensive part of both state and national budgets and involves a large section of the population, particularly when we include workers in the industry, and needs a much wider involvement from all relevant sections than we had yesterday.

What really concerns me is that none of the suggestions made and ideas canvassed makes a contribution to older people believing in themselves and being made to feel that they and their lives are worthwhile, when they are not involved. Even if we can come up with a recipe for acceptable and appropriate standards in health care for older people this approach only meets their physical needs. The way it is being organised, if this conference is typical, does nothing for their self-esteem. The days of Universities indulging in Ivory Tower knowledge and politics belong to the last century.

Next June I will be travelling to Seoul for an International Conference organised by the Gerontology and Geriatrics Associations which will hopefully be more inclusive. I entered 4 abstracts in the hope that one would be accepted and have ended up being asked to make 1 oral presentation and 3 posters. From what I have heard about South Korea I am expecting a high standard as they seem to be making great progress in so many areas. It will be interesting to see firstly their attitude towards their own older people and secondly the provision they make for them, both at family and state level. Conferences invite contributions from all over the world yet the attributes of the host country still seems to shine through.

In aged care, and any aspects of ageing, it is vitally important that older people are involved throughout the process for it to make a meaningful contribution to successful ageing. This is largely reflected in the extent to which older people are invited to, and do, participate in any form of conference.