The Irish Border has been much in the news recently. At a conference in September 2018, the border was also making headlines, but for less controversial reasons.
The theme of the 66th Annual and Scientific Meeting of the Irish Gerontological Society(IGS) was Transforming Ageing Across Borders. Importantly, this reflected the collaboration of IGS with the Northern Ireland branches of the British Geriatrics Society and the British Society of Gerontology. The theme also indicated the inter-disciplinary and inter-professional background of the participants.
I joined the conference scientific committee as a representative of BSGNI, and enjoyed the challenges that this brought me – not least reading and translating some of conference abstracts which were written in a more medical language that I am used to.
Whilst Dublin is only 100 miles from Belfast, the two cities have very different political, health and social care systems. Nevertheless, they continue to share strong historical, cultural and social links. In addition, there are many cross-border health and social care initiatives, some of which are funded by the EU. For example, the Cooperation and Working Together (CAWT) cross-border health and social care partnership funds support for older people via Telehealth and social supports, and cross border workforce training programmes for social workers.
Other cross-border projects are funded via the North South Ministerial Council, including the radiotherapy unit at Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry/Londonderry which provides access to radiotherapy services for more a population of more than 500,000 people on both sides of the border.
Many NGOs work across the whole island of Ireland, and there are plenty of examples of cross-border collaboration among academic researchers. Indeed, the most recent event organised by BSGNI ‑ Exploring Inter-generational Friendship ‑ was held in Trinity College Dublin. And of course, many health and social care staff live in one jurisdiction and work in another.
The border, and crossing it, is an important part of the lives of many older people, and in the research agenda of gerontologists and geriatricians. Thus, a collaboration between IGS, BSG and BGS makes a lot of sense. And led to much confusion about acronyms!
The conference was held in Cavan on 27-29 September, and had a record number of participants from Northern Ireland. For me, the conference was a great opportunity to hear about the wealth of research and initiatives taking place. I particularly enjoyed hearing about The Irish Longitudinal Study of Ageing (TILDA), which is a close relation of NICOLA (Northern Ireland Cohort for the Longitudinal Study of Ageing), and gave me lots of food for thought for future analysis.
We hope the conference is the start of a long-standing collaboration with our nearest neighbours.