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A big thank you to everyone who has come to our first few Gerontology & Tonics (G&Ts). They are short presentations on gerontological theory designed to be accessible to early career and ‘accidental’ gerontologists’ – followed by an informal hang-out where we share a virtual drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic cocktail together). Participants bring such varied and interesting perspectives, and it’s a relaxed and informal way of learning from the speakers and each other.  

Our next G&T is on Monday April 25 at 6.30pm and will be a chance to chat about all the themes that come out of an event arranged by the Centre for Ageing and Biographical Studies (CABS) at the Open University: Health outcomes of racially minoritised older people: An exploration of key concepts with Professor James Nazroo and Dr Halima Begum. You can sign up to the G&T here:  Gerontology & Tonic Tickets, Mon 25 Apr 2022 at 18:30 | Eventbrite and to the event which starts at 5.30pm here Health outcomes of racially minoritised older people: key concepts Tickets, Mon 25 Apr 2022 at 17:30 | Eventbrite

G&Ts aren’t recorded, so I’m sharing a few observations that I noted down on behalf of ERA  members who couldn’t attend previous G&Ts and would like to catch up.

Our first G&T in December was on the lifecourse theory with Heather Mulkey, ERA chair. She ran through the key ideas and we chatted about a range of subjects, including pet therapy. One of the participants was a gerontology student living in Japan who talked about the role of community centres in people’s lives in Japan – fascinating.

Our second G&T in February was on ageism with Tom Scharf, BSG chair.  He drew our attention to images of older people in the media, and the repeated use and mis-use of photos of wrinkled hands and hands on walking sticks during Covid. He pointed out that the photos might be benign in themselves, but when used repeatedly, older people are reduced to being ‘vulnerable’, and the value of sticks as walking aids which keep people mobile and active is lost.

Three of the organisations challenging stereotypes were mentioned. One is the Centre for Ageing Better image library and also their image bank of older and disabled people getting active. The others are AGE Platform Europe – and of course the BSG. One example form the BSG is the 2016 photography competition ‘Ageing: the bigger picture’.  All these organisations advise the use of photos showing people’s entire bodies, activity, colour, and diversity.   

G&T participants came up with a range of ideas, such as commissioning skilled photographers, and emphasised that ethics, and in particular consent and privacy, were hugely important. Other suggestions included asking the people who are photographed to photograph themselves and share them through the Creative Commons. Also using other forms of imagery, such as drawings. One lovely example was shared – the artwork used in a summary of the research project ‘My Home, My Garden Story – Exploring how people living with dementia access and use their garden in everyday life’.   

The discussion led on to how to take a ‘whole society approach’ and re-frame debates. The WHO is taking the lead with its Decade of Healthy Ageing and guidance in documents such as the Global Report on Ageism.

Another strategy is to improve law and policy. Some thought-provoking ideas have already been crystallised, for instance, the UN Convention on the rights of older people,  and  also the human rights framework pioneered by Peter Townsend, as summarised in a blogpost by Gemma Carney and Paul Nash on the Policy Press’s Transforming Society website.

A third interlinked strategy is working with the media. Suggestions included guidance to editors and press regulators. In the UK the organisations to talk to are The Society of Editors and the Independent Press Standards Organisation. In Ireland the regulator is the Press Ombudsman – great to have a participant from Ireland who shared learning from outside the UK. We didn’t come to a conclusion about how to strike a balance between calling out prejudice and being sympathetic to the pressures media organisations are under to deliver – always a difficult one. More work needs to be done on ways of encouraging picture desk editors and photographers to confront socio-cultural stereotypes.  

Other complex issues were also touched on, such as the importance of acknowledging inactivity as well as activity in later life, and internalised ageism. One snippet has stayed with me – the importance of promoting images of older women without resorting to glamorous photos of wealthier women in perfect kitchens making a meal and smiling while cutting red peppers. We mulled over the obsession with red fruit and veg. Presumably red is a strong visual contrast to sparkling white ‘fantasy-kitchen’ tiles.

If anyone who took part thinks something has been left out of this account, do add it below, and also any useful additional online links and references. While retrieving the links above I came across another valuable strategy for encouraging age-friendly photography – a collaborative positive ageing photography project between photography students at the Northern School of Art’s further education campus in Middlesbrough and Ageing Better Middlesbrough.  

Our third G&T on April 7 was on the concept of active ageing and the importance of physical activity in later life with Cassandra Phoenix, associate professor in physical activity and health at Durham University – summary coming soon.

Lastly, requests for future G&Ts include speakers happy to speak on ageing in place, network theory and the UN convention on the rights of older people. If any ERA members or established gerontologists are interested in leading on any of these topics or others they are interested in we would be really appreciative.  Get in touch via era@britishgerontology.org – and bring a favourite cocktail recipe!