Reflection on the BSG conference 2022 from Wendy Twist

First of all, an embarrassed apology for the lateness of this reflection on the BSG conference 2022. In my defence, this whole year has been rather frenetic since having decided, after 30 years working in the non-profit sector, to go back into academia. Studying in later life brings a whole set of different challenges to studying when one is younger. I’ve been completing a Masters in Gerontology and Ageing at KCL whilst working part-time, ‘empty-nesting’ and supporting one older relative in Dorset through end-of-life care, as well as another with mobility issues at the other end of the country. So, for me, the BSG Conference was not only welcome ‘time out’ doing something different, it was also a fantastic opportunity to connect thought-provoking and inspiring research presentations to my own practical, ‘real-life’ experiences.

I’d like to highlight two sessions: First the Emerging Researchers in Ageing (ERA) pre-conference, with a ‘Better Futures for Gerontologists’ theme. Ruth Winden gave a useful and entertaining presentation on career planning both inside and outside academia. Ruth’s approach is about ‘thinking outside the box’ – not necessarily continuing solely in a gerontology research role but also considering how gerontological expertise can be used beyond research or mixing it up and doing both. Ruth followed with a very practical demonstration of proactive networking using LinkedIn. As I’m a mature, emerging researcher considering what to do next, this session was great for me. I googled Ruth afterwards and from her LinkedIn profile I discovered that she is ‘on a mission to help researchers manage their careers with curiosity, clarity, confidence and gusto’.

The other session I’d like to highlight was the presentation by Grant Gibson (University of Stirling) on how assistive and everyday technologies be implemented in supported living environments. The question addressed was whether Assistive Technology (AT) can improve quality of life and reduce social care costs by delaying moves from community settings into care, and/or reducing the intensity of care. Since previous research has shown relatively limited impact of AT in this context, this study asked whether this might be a question of process and implementation. Rather than a one-size-fits-all, could more impact be achieved by enabling individual approaches in different contexts, and greater dialogue with potential users?

To me the outcomes were fascinating. The co-creative process and dialogue around each new technology, and time spent with each user, made people more prepared to try out the new technology and built confidence in its potential to improve quality of life. Often the simplest items had the biggest impact. The research was carried out in supported living settings in which individuals can help each other and make it fun. Given my own challenging experience of trying to support older relatives living at home, I was struck by the huge potential if this approach could be delivered in a home setting.

My local Oxford 50+ group is very excited that Professor Roy Sandbach is coming to Oxford to talk to us on the theme of ‘A National Independent Living Strategy for Our Aging Population: why don’t we have one? How can we create one with technology innovation as a key enabler?’ I believe the sensitive, individual and contextualised approach described by Grant Gibson could be part of the answer to that question.