Anglicare Australia Deputy Dirctor, Roland Manderson, recently presented at a conference in Nanjing, China, in October.
I was invited to give a paper to the 2nd Amity International Senior Service Conference & Elderly Social Work Conference in Nanjing, China in mid-October. My theme was an Anglicare network perspective on meaning in the lives of people living with dementia. I conducted a workshop with 55 church social service leaders, and then presented a paper to the conference proper, Supporting people living with dementia to find meaning in their lives.
For me this has been the start of a process of learning more about how we – in our network – embrace the important work of caring for and valuing our oldest and most frail among us.
Clearly the challenge of ageing demographic is worldwide.
The problem, many people from China said, is that they get old before they get rich. However, one of the concerns that we shared at the conference - a key interest of mine as an Anglicare representative - is how we take into account the fact that no matter how much our economies grow, not everyone will be rich or even comfortable. And indeed, that’s not the point. Instead we need organise our economies and our society to provide the care that is needed for everyone among us; that we don’t leave people behind in their growing vulnerability.
The Japanese delegation gave us some real insights into what kind of community approaches might work. For example, there are over a thousand dementia centres across the country. Each one serving a local population of 10,000. Local shops, libraries, hostels and police are linked into the centres. If elderly neighbours or customers appear to be lost or confused, then the centre is contacted. People look out for each other through a kind of community support scheme that assists people to live positively in their communities, to continue with a meaningful life.
As a part of this approach there is a lot of work about dementia, old age and frailty in Japanese schools. And there is a lot of work school students do with their older citizens outside of school too.
Maybe it’s because Japan has the oldest population in the world, and has had for quite a while. They are further down the path of living with old age and dementia.
And the speakers from the US provided some reality insights into healthy and sustaining activity, bringing the physical and the spiritual together. As well as the risk of an over medicalised approach to aging. And they drew out the hidden and hard edge of aged care right cross the world, our ongoing dependence on the family carers, and explored what we - US, Hong Kong, Japan, Australia – can do to support them.
Our hosts, Amity Foundation, ran a really valuable event. It was clearly a wonderful opportunity for Chinese people who work in aged care to listen to local and international experts, and to talk and work with each other. Amity Foundation has published a report of the conference on its website.
Chu Chaoyu, Director of the Amity Social Service Center, visited the Anglicare Australia conference in Melbourne last year. He was the one who invited me to come to Nanjing this year. In his presentation, he didn’t talk about theory or practice of aged care, but rather the work of Amity more broadly. Relative to other organisations in China, Amity seems to be a large NGO, with its international support giving it some flexibility and scope. Mr Chu talked about how Amity draws on its church communities in delivering its social work and on how it supports other NGOs in China. And how it is making a contribution, too, in Ethiopa and Nepal.
The other insight for me was about China. On the last day we heard about remote under-resourced services working with the ‘left behind’ – women, children and the elderly in rural China. And from a regional politician and NGO chairman, we heard a sharp critique of the real estate developers who invest in under-used top end aged care, while those in most need have access to nothing. The final comments were about Web 2.0. Government has said to use the web. That doesn’t mean deliver the same services with new technology, our speaker told us. She said we should be thinking about Uber Aged Care, or something similar, instead, because this kind of responsiveness and flexibility is what will drive our future systems.
My thanks go to the great team of workers and translators and experts from Amity Foundation who invited me to their conference and looked after me on my visit. I commend Nanjing as a relaxed, easy going city (of around 6.5 million people!) and a rich and ever present cultural heritage.
[LEFT] Anglicare Australia Deputy Director, Roland Manderson supports Deborah Harbinson from Arizona deliver a laughing workshop. [LEFT] An enthusiastic room of conference delegates.
Delegates of the 2nd Amity Senior Service Conference & Elderly Social Work Conference in Nanjing, China. Roland is front and centre in row 3.