Walrus Talk on Aging and Mobility

The messages were generally hopeful and forward-looking, and all the speakers were clearly experts in their fields, it just would have been nice if they had addressed the topic at hand.

By Jason Allen
Published October 06, 2017

Last night's Walrus Talk on Mobility and Aging at the David Braley Health Centre, which gathered eight experts on Aging and Mobility, was mainly an interesting high-level discussion of aging. One expert did address mobility, but sadly never the twain did meet in any substantive way.

The talks were nonetheless fascinating.

Dr. Parminder Rainas, the Canada Research Chair in Geroscience, did an excellent job of laying the foundation for the discussion. There are now more Canadians over the age of 65 than under 15, and this is a good news story - good news for life expectancy, and the success of medicine and public health.

Knowing that the majority of seniors are able to stay active and healthy well into their later years means we need to change the conversation from one of dependency and disability to one of how we build an environment that meets everyone's needs.

Dr. Margaret Denton is a professor emeritus of McMaster, and spoke at the local level on the challenges of social isolation and mobility in Hamilton. Many seniors faced with taking the bus in order to stay connected and active often struggle with the fact they have been driving all of their adult lives.

That's why the Hamilton Council on Aging has been supporting travel training courses for seniors to help them feel comfortable taking public transit once driving is no longer an option.

Doreen Spence, a Cree elder, gave a riveting talk of her childhood in Alberta and her father's elaborate game of spontaneous hide-and-seek that kept her from being a victim of the Sixties Scoop.

The fact that she avoided it meant she was nearly the only child in her town growing up, and she told the heartbreaking story of elders with nobody to be an elder to. Her talk highlighted the importance of reconciliation in a real, and intensely vivid way.

Mike Kirby hit the furthest from the mark in terms of speakers. A Conservative Senator from Nova Scotia, he spoke passionately about the need for greater mental health supports among youth, during the onset of mental illness. An important topic to be sure, but unrelated to the discussion at hand.

Dr. Dee Mangin gave what to me was one of the most compelling presentations of the evening about the TAPER program at McMaster. As the David Braley Chair of Family Medicine at Mac, she is focused on the dangers of polypharmacy - patients who take multiple prescriptions for multiple ailments, often with little consideration as to how those drugs interact both with the other drugs, and with the other ailments.

Her description of the fatalities associated with drug interactions was chilling: In Europe, it's the equivalent of two fully loaded 747s crashing every day with no survivors. TAPER uses scientific methodology to help patients take drug holidays from some of the prescriptions, treating only the symptoms they find most challenging.

Stephen Trumper is a journalism professor at Ryerson, and a former editor of Harrowsmith and Toronto Life. His talk on both the challenge of living with a disability (well meaning professionals who often strip away your dignity in the process of providing treatment), and the rewards of overcoming challenges was a warm and personal break from a number of presentations full of statistics and charts.

Olympic medallist in Kayaking, Adam van Koeverden asked the same question I think everyone was asking: "Why was [he] there?" He seized the opportunity, though, with an acknowledgement of the Inuit and the vessel white people had appropriated that had brought him so much happiness and reward.

He spoke touchingly of his parents and their success with exercise in treating ailments, and he was charming enough that nobody minded that, yet again, his talk had nothing to do with the intersection of aging and mobility.

Finally, futurist and Massey College affiliate Sanjay Khanna gave the only presentation of the evening that focused on mobility. He asked some challenging questions about the future of mobility in the face of demographic, economic, and climate change headwinds.

Will the car of the future be an electric autonomous vehicle? Or will climate change wreak so much havoc with our infrastructure, our roads and our electrical grid, that the car of the future will be a Land Rover?

I was sad when his seven minutes was up, as I felt there was much more he could have addressed if given the time.

In the end, it was an engaging, and mostly interesting discussion about aging, and the things we as a society need to consider with the demographic shift that is already well underway.

The messages were generally hopeful and forward-looking, and all the speakers were clearly experts in their fields, it just would have been nice if they had addressed the topic at hand.

Jason Allen is a chronic hive whacker in the Kirkendall Neighbourhood.

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By kevinlove (registered) | Posted October 06, 2017 at 23:44:57

I see that general admission was $12. I would be quite peeved to pay that kind of money to hear someone bloviate about his pet topic that has nothing to do with what I paid good money to hear. It is the responsibility of whoever is running this kind of event to keep the speakers on topic.

Because there is a lot that can be said about aging and mobility. My own take is to look at The Netherlands, where one quarter of all the trips taken by people over the age of 65 years are taken on bicycles. Even people over the age of 75 take an average of over two trips per week by bicycle.

Here is a description and video of 8-80 cycling in The Netherlands:

And a video of a local government consulting elderly people about how to improve their cycling safety:

When is the last time an event like this happened in Hamilton?

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