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Upcoming Conference: Building Hospitable Communities for Aging

September 21, 2016

For more than a year now I’ve had the pleasure to work alongside a dynamic organizing committee in putting together next week’s conference on Building Hospitable Communities for Aging. Since my workload has been light compared to that of my colleagues, I thought I would step up and say a few words about why the conference is exciting, important and a unique opportunity for those who care about aging as a social justice issue.

Canada faces an immense demographic challenge. As in other industrialized nations, slowing birthrates, longer life expectancy and a relative deficit in immigration have combined to make an aging society. This means that aging, from now on, will be doubly challenging: people in my generation, for example, will feel the full brunt of aging in an aging society. The conference responds to this challenge by posing the following questions: What must we do to prepare, as a society, for this demographic challenge? What are some of the specific challenges and opportunities facing us? What needs fixing, and what’s working? And above all, how can we build a society that is hospitable to older adults? In other words, how can we respect the diverse needs of aging and older adults and welcome them in ways that uphold their human dignity and the demands of distributive justice?

The issues broached by the conference are big, but they’re not just academic. The organizing committee staged two community consultations prior to putting out our call for contributions. These allowed us to capitalize upon Saint Paul’s unique position: as a small but vibrant university grounded in social and spiritual values, we found that we could make human, face-to-face links with the community that we serve. We invited private individuals from all walks of life and representatives of various governmental and non-governmental sectors to help us identify what issues and needs such a conference should address. While we heard a good deal about what isn’t working for aging people in our community, we were also struck by the immense optimism and good will of those concerned. There was a broad consensus that the conference should be a meeting place for like-minded people to engage in problem-solving and break down the silos in which those who care about aging too often toil in isolation.

To this end, the conference is both local and international in scope. We’re pleased to welcome presenters from our own community but also from as far away as Australia and Sweden. Truly, aging in an aging society is an international issue! We look forward to a productive dialogue between scholars from different countries engaged in the same problem.

We’re also happy with our widely interdisciplinary program. There will be presentations in public policy, human kinetics / public health, philosophy, ethics, and more. Up for discussion will be tough issues like housing, diversity, dementia, end of life care, spirituality, loneliness, aging and the urban/rural divide, and aging in Canada’s north. There will also be a special training session put on by our colleagues in Counseling, Psychotherapy and Spirituality on clinical therapeutic skills for work with older adults!

I hope my description has piqued your interest. Registration information and a link to the conference program can be found at:

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