“Life is short but stuff lasts”: European Network in Aging Studies conference

I recently went to the European Network in Aging Studies conference in Graz, Austria. It was a stimulating and absorbing meeting. I’ll confine myself to a few headlines.

On the first day we had a keynote entitled “Aging in a world of things”. The speaker talked about material convoys “that move with (people) through time, space and the life course”. The phrase “sticky things” for belongings that are meaningful and accumulate has stayed with me, along with “accumulation through mundane neglect” (have you seen my attic?) He argued that to divest oneself of accumulated belongings is effortful and involves cognitive, physical, emotional and social effort. Working in older adult services we’ve all seen houses that chime with this – it’s uncomfortable when it describes my house too. I also took away the phrase “life is short but stuff lasts”. The contrary view though is that our belongings maintain our selves. (Russell Belk wrote about possessions and the extended self see the abstract here). When you see someone with dementia in hospital it may be hard to get a feel for the person they have been and are – when you see them in their home surrounded by “stuff” that speaks to you and to them of their interests, family and history it is much easier to get a sense of the person and perhaps for the person to experience continuity of self. Maybe this is an argument in favour of stuff.

Another keynote was on ageism and passionately delivered. A couple of quotable quotes from this talk:

  • “The greying nation problem is produced by ageism and not by elders.”
  • “Fear ageism not ageing”.

This speaker gave out some cards that start by saying: “you have just made an ageist/ ableist remark or behaved in an ageist/ ableist way …” They aim to draw this to attention, but I wasn’t completely sure how she uses them. She suggested giving them to students to get them to think about ageism/ableism remarks that they hear or behaviours that they observe. Having shown the card to a number of other people I found that they attracted a range of responses from “you’re more likely to entrench people in their thinking” and “it’s a bit vengeful for me” (the latter comment referring to the final sentence which says that being ageist/ableist “will bring yourself a more bitter old age”) to “it’s an important point”. I think she was saying that ageism is generally acceptable and tolerated and it shouldn’t be, and trying to get people thinking about how to stand up against ageist remarks and behaviours: is this one way to do it or are there better ways?

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