2018 Aging Empowerment Conference Recap

by Joe Gallagher

On June 14th & 15th, I immersed myself in a conference unlike any I have ever attended..

InControl Wisconsin hosted the 2018 Aging Empowerment Conference at the Crowne Plaza in Madison, 2018 Aging Empowerment Conference by InControlWis. There were over 115 professionals, caregivers and citizen advocates in attendance.  The aim of the conference was to discuss the efforts needed towards preserving self-determination in the senior population, preserving citizenship and what exactly it means to be a citizen in the later years of life. There were various presentations to provide education on HOW to educate seniors on the choices they have – decisions that they CAN make and should not be forced upon them.


Dr. Simon Duffy of the Citizen Network

The keynote speaker was Dr. Simon Duffy founder of the Citizen Network, a global non-profit cooperative movement, formed to create a world where everyone matters – where everyone can be an equal citizen. Duffy has been instrumental in giving a voice to those with ‘different abilities’.  Note: I will no longer use the word “disabilities”, as I aim to remove the negative stigma historically surrounding the word. Duffy is also known as being an innovator for deinstitutionalization across the United Kingdom.

His presentation to the group captured the attention of everyone in the room.  He discussed the idea of independence versus the fear of asking for help when you need it.

“When you say you don’t need help, you are dreaming. When you say that, you essentially say that you don’t need the community. Therefore, the community doesn’t have a chance to get to know you. The community does not know you.”


He discussed the meaning of ‘citizenship’: what it truly means to be a citizen, the roots of citizenship and the services and support that are provided within a community (see diagram). I invite you to follow Duffy’s blog to learn more about his insights on this global topic.

This was just the beginning of a 24+ hour discussion, which led me further into the concept of Intergenerational Housing.


The Role of Intergenerational Housing

According to Duffy, for every hour of professional services, there are five hours of similar, non-professional services occurring within communities across the globe.

For some reason, we are hesitant to get to truly know our neighbors much less our neighbors’ neighbors. We are afraid to open ourselves up and accept help from those around us because we feel it shows weakness or an inability to function independently.  Ultimately, we refrain from asking for help from the community and in turn, we may not contribute our own abilities to the community.

Joe Gallagher presenting on Intergenerational Housing
My presentation on Intergenerational Housing

When I discuss this concept of Intergenerational Housing, I envision us creating a sense of community.  Every member of the housing community is a citizen of the community – everyone brings something to the success of the community.

Duffy mentioned this “need to find new love” when a senior is placed into a senior living community by their loved ones.  Because their loved ones are no longer around them on a constant basis, they look for someone or something new.  In an Intergenerational Housing model, they would not need to look very far: everyone would know one another and work together every day thus fostering new relationships.

Duffy’s presentation really energized me to continue pushing forward with researching this topic and educating people on the benefits of the Intergenerational Model.

Simon Duffy, Citizen Network & Joe Gallagher, JLA Architects
Simon Duffy & I

He has shaped social policy both nationally and internationally and pushes for the overall strengthening of what it means to be a ‘citizen’ within one’s community.


Key Takeaways

The sessions on the first day of the conference discussed various ways in which we as professionals and skilled care providers/consultants can educate and empower seniors to make the best choices for themselves.

Technological advancements were a hot topic, providing various opportunities for seniors to age in place and stay connected with their family.  Understanding cultural differences was a key component of a few discussions all focused on the end goal of empowering seniors in their respective situations to make the best possible decisions.

One discussion I found particularly interesting was understanding and navigating health care transitions: from a period of crisis to an extended stay at a facility to just being in observation at a hospital.  Understanding the amount of paperwork that needs to be completed at each step is a job in itself!

On day two, I sat in on a small group workshop where various service providers came together to discuss individual topics within the senior industry, community, and ways to engage and empower them.  There were a few major ideas and understandings which came out of this:

  • Discuss Aging with the Public: Make the public more aware of the process of aging, the needs of the aging, and how we can help with this transition. Social media may seem to show aging in a positive light, but we need to make sure that we aren’t merely sending out a “celebrity message” about aging but also increasing awareness of the needs that may arise as we age.  We need to focus more on a well-lived life and lifelong accomplishments.
  • Take a Community Approach in Aging: Remove isolation and focus not solely on senior independence, but on encouraging that asking for help is okay, and when you receive (and give) help you become a stronger part of your community network.
  • Build an Understanding with Seniors: Collaboration and communication are very important; people interpret things differently and it make take longer than normal to come to an understanding. How we listen to seniors is very important! While internet and social media may be the way in which today’s generation communicates, it is not the way in which the senior generations communicated; printed materials and traditional media are more effective.
  • Encourage Local Leaders to Do Something for You: In order to see changes occur, we need to engage local and state leaders to become part of the process. Talk less and listen more in meetings with key stakeholders.  Seek to understand where the stakeholders may be caught up in a process and try to further understand and communicate the pros and cons. Treat your volunteers as valuable members of the team and empower volunteers to also have a voice in the discussion. Support pioneers!

Overall, the discussions at the conference were very exciting and I highly encourage you to attend next year’s conference. I invite you to take a moment and visit Citizen Network to learn more about what Duffy and his team are up to.

Did you attend? I’d love to hear what you thought about the conference! Email me at JGallagher@jla-ap.com