Curac Conference Report - May 2014

CURAC Conference Report from Ken Craig - May 2014
 
As promised to the UBC APE Executive, I have prepared some notes on the 12th annual CURAC Conference held at McMaster University, May 29-31, 2014. My focus is upon ideas that might benefit UBC APE. The conference was very well done—very interesting, innovative presentations providing a wealth of information, excellent facilities at McMaster, excellent meals and special occasions and great collegiality among the attending representatives of the 39 member associations of CURAC. The organizing committee, comprised of people from McMaster University and Mohawk College did an exceptional job.
 
We were greeted by Patrick Dean, President of McMaster University. Beyond a warm welcome and an appealing history of McMaster, he made a number of observations that were intriguing:
a) He expressed pride in the strong McMaster Association and welcomed its efforts, indicating he wanted to include retirees in more university activities,
b) Saw it as a bridge between the University and the community, emphasizing how retirees are able to bring community members to the University. Our Tapestry programs, e.g., the Philosopher Cafes came to mind,
c) He talked about a strong, innovative focus of McMaster on “The Future of Aging”, emphasizing programs promoting optimal aging, with the LaBarge Portal a key feature (http://optimalaging.mcmaster.ca/index.html). A new McMaster Chancellor, Suzanne LaBarge, gave 10 million dollars to develop this portal (I wonder if something like this would appeal to UBC’s new Chancellor, Robert Lee!—on that note, occurs he might be a very interesting APE speaker). The McMaster/LaBarge Optimal Aging Initiative is designed to bring healthcare information, including research findings, into the hands of citizens, healthcare professionals, public health practitioners and policy makers. The portal provides information developed by a battery of researchers translating the research literature into that which is of value to the average citizen and includes interactive opportunities. He also described a couple of McMaster initiatives, the Gilbrea Centre for Studies on Aging, focusing on an optimal aging initiative and programs for older persons at the McMaster Physical Activity Centre of Excellence (PACE). His summary observation was that the McMaster initiative was a response to recognition of the central importance to Canada of addressing issues relating to aging.
 
Sue Becker of the McMaster Department of Psychology, Neuroscience and Behaviour gave a great talk on living with hearing loss, focusing upon the neurobehavioural background, then on to the design of hearing aids, with her research group developing an approach focusing not so much on amplification of lost frequencies as a neurocompensation approach which is advancing beyond conceptualization of brain activity during hearing and hearing loss to commercialization, capitalizing on NSERC collaborative grant funding.
 
This was followed by Brenda Vrkljana, an occupational therapist talking about “Shifting Gears: Changing Perceptions about Older Drivers in Canada”. While it was a comprehensive talk, what captured my attention was the observation that vehicle accidents are perhaps better explained by specific risk factors that are often correlated with aging, but by no means exclusive to any age group; these relate to, in no particular order, vision, range of motion, reaction time, information processing, continuing experience with driving, distraction, medical conditions (dementia, cardiovascular, pulmonary, diabetes, stroke), blood alcohol level, blood alcohol level; visual acuity, cardiovalsuclar pulmonary, psychiatric, diabetes, stroke, etc. She provided a great account of the Candrive Research Project developing a scientifically valid method of determining medical fitness to drive. The conversation shifted to how not everybody is able to drive, and retiree associations should develop programs providing rides to meetings and other activities for people unable to drive. She emphasized the need to work together to keep people as active and mobile for as long & safely as possible.
 
Ellen Ryan, an emerita professor in Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences provided an uplifting talk on “Fostering Resilient Aging through Social Participation”. Lots of good nostrums, e.g., supercentenarians argue for (Jerry Friedman, 2005, Lessons from the Supercentenarians): sidestepping adversity, optimism, resilience, strong family ties, hard work, faith/spirituality and humour. Resilient aging seen as a product of: engaging with life; minimizing risk and disability and maximizing physical & mental capacity (Rowe & Kahn). She described projects such as “Age-friendly communities” and the “Village Model”, both of which could be Googled.
 
Byron Spencer, a population health expert in gerontology and demography provided an informative talk on population aging and their economic costs (implications for standards of living) in Canada, and elsewhere. A lot of this boils down to the proportion of the population that is working. There was a demographic dividend in the support ratio (ratio of labour force to population changes) as a result of the baby boom, but it is declining, although still well above 1976. The baby boom has aged giving rise to a demographic dividend (the no. of people providing for the population at large), from .45 in 1976 to .54 in 2006. The ratio is now declining; back to .49 in 2036; still well above 1976. The Expert Panel on Older Workers report drew attention to the future decline in the support ratio, arguing for governments recognizing they should maximize participation rates for older workers. There indeed have been substantial increases in the proportion of older persons in the labour force—18-23%. The larger the fraction of the population in the labour force, the greater is productivity.
 
Mark Oremus, in Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics described both the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging and the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative in more detail. The former will be a massive data base fostering understanding of the Canadian aging population (169 researchers; 26 institutions; multidisciplinary (biology, genetics, medicine, psychology, sociology, demography, etc., large no. of people, 50,000; 30,000 for a home interview and visit to data collection site; clinical investigations, etc.). They “Hope to contribute to evidence-based decision-making that will lead to better health and quality of life for Canadians.”
 
The CURAC AGM, chaired by President Sandra Pyke, led to accounts of an impressive list of new activities and lots of work by the executive this past year, mostly accomplished through committees and conference calls. I will spare you the details of the committee reports, but happy to provided the written documents.
Sandra Pyke reported on her effort to dialogue with each member association, accomplished through telephone conversations and emails, enquiring after what additional services might CURAC provide, what were the major issues that were confronting local associations and what issues might CURAC profitably address. She had a good response. Tidbits of information and advice were: the CURAC member associations are very diverse, varying dramatically in size and in whether they include both or either faculty and staff. The majority (41%) felt CURAC services were quite satisfactory. There were idiosyncratic suggestions such as: to review and advocate for pharmaceutical services, publicize achievements of faculty to let public know of importance of retired faculty, continue to emphasize membership recruiting, insurance and liability, and to foster communication between organizations on issues such as: dues, types of members, structure, library services, free parking services, funds made available by colleges and universities, research grants for retirees; provision of an operational budget; travel support, etc.. There is continuing need for: better quality communication, of webinars, support for regional meetings and more discounts, like those with CARP, or Economical Select, engaging in serious public policy deliberations. Major problems or difficulties in member associations include membership issues such as maintaining or retaining members, the process of keeping membership records and keeping people interested and attending activities. There is a continuing to search for additional sources of revenue. Pension and benefit issues remain of great interest. The majority of associations had no suggestions for innovative CURAC activities. A number of names were suggested as participants in CURAC committees. These have been followed up quite satisfactorily. Sandra was generally very positive about the thoughtful, well-reasoned comments, feeling that the survey stimulated some frank and thoughtful reflections on CURAC.
 
There were a number of “Best Practices” presentations. Rather that detailing these and describing activities already part of the UBC APE program, I have provided bulleted summary statements of what seem like interesting ideas (I’ve mostly excised redundant ideas):
  • The University of Windsor has amassed a considerable fund that provides undergraduate students with bursaries. The supplement this with a contribution of $50 in honour of departing members of their association.
  • There was great interest in the SFU emeriti support: Dean of Arts ($50,000--$5000 X 10); Dean of sci. ($2000 for prof. development), etc.
  • I had the pleasure of describing the UBC APE departmental representative program
  • Laurier group is preparing a book celebrating the university centennial based on emeritus reminiscences. They have also developed a centennial garden in a prominent location on campus.
  • They have a member who sits on the university pensions committee.
  • A “Showcase” event, apparently quite prominent and visible features sale of baked goods and donated small item, providing money to support their bursaries (typically $1400 per year). They also do a silent auction, supporting a graduate student award.
  • Ehor Stebelsky. They work hard at succession planning (identifying and preparing members for executive positions), ensuring strong people come onto their association executive.
  • The WUFA negotiates for both active and retired faculty
  • Three southern Ontario Colleges (Niagara, Mohawk, Humber) actively collaborate with each other, invite each other’s members to events. It works well for people who move to other areas.
  • Guelph uses these forums as a format for program events, e.g., in 2011, they had speakers address “Benefits, taxes and fraud” 1:30-3:30. This was a success, so they have had subsequent fora on “Travel abroad and your health care plan” (Sun Life). “Tax Strategies for retirees” (Weiler & Co.) “Avoiding identity theft, scams and frauds” (Guelph Police Service), “Condo living; where to live” and “Brain fitness and resilience”, Volunteering” Seniors safety”; Staying fit in retirement” and “Better health-better futures”
  • Reception honouring the retiring president was quite a success.
  • U Vic had a couple of successful program initiative to celebrate the university’s 50th anniversary under the rubric of “Catching the memories”. They collected emeriti stories; an online version coming out soon. Second, a historical memory of the beginning of the association will be appearing.