Community Engagement with Older People

24 June 2009


I have something to tell you


I guess everyone who’s been a speaker has had an experience like mine. But when it happened I was initially devastated. I’d been asked to speak to an aged care organisation’s conference. I’d written a story about a feisty older woman who was moving about her future community with ease and independence.


The story was part of a consulting project I’d been doing about ageing in the City of Brisbane and I closely identified with the progress of my heroine, whom I described as part-Aboriginal.


You can click on the link below for the whole story:   A Vision for Brisbane


The speech was a disaster. Angie, my assistant, was the only one who clapped in an audience of maybe three hundred.


What had gone wrong?


Later, after we visited the conference sponsors’ displays and stalls, we figured it out. I had been talking about community engagement, empowerment and the independence of older people to the wrong people! These, it seemed to me, were the people who traded in dependency. The people who made walkers and special beds to raise you up so the carer does not wreck their back helping you back into bed. Admirable folk. But not much into what I was talking about. Or so it seemed to me at the time.


My friend Shelagh, a retired academic, who did the first copy-edit of Kitchen Table Sustainability, lives in high-quality retirement housing in Vancouver. She recently reported that she has been able to give up her walker (at 83) and walk with a cane again. After some months of hydrotherapy.


Expressing my delight, I countered that I had noticed that almost all the people living in her establishment seem to have walkers. I thought perhaps it was the retirement village organisation’s risk-management policy in action?

Guidance for People Working with Older People


So, to the topic of this blog: community engagement for older people. People like me and my Baby Boomer friends. And the “Veterans”. Like Shelagh.


There are a few tips in the material that follows. Just click on the link below to download a summary:

Community Engagement with Older People download



It boils down to respect, respect and respect. And not expecting to exploit or foster compliance and dependence.


We Baby Boomers are a stroppy lot, used to getting our way, being the taste-makers and having influence.


We are not likely to be content with the sorts of weak and tokenistic community engagement that often passes for the real thing.


Just ask Shelagh.