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First Older Persons' Symposium answers calls

  • Publication Date:

    10 November 2022

  • Author:

    Caitlin Dixon

  • Area:

    Mental Health, Addiction
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The much-anticipated Mental Health and Addiction Older Persons’ Symposium was held in October after two years in the making.

Attended by around 100 people, the event was organised in response to calls from the sector for national connection opportunities.

These are outlined here in Working with older people: Mental health and addiction workforce development priorities.

Representatives of the older persons’ mental health and addiction sector expressed a need to come together and understand the national and regional overview in areas of best practice, synergies, gaps and sector updates.

A previous Symposium was planned but cancelled due to COVID-19 lockdowns, and was replaced with two virtual lunchtime sessions.

The Auckland-based event was planned in partnership with a steering group of leaders in the older persons’ mental health and addiction sector, who also participated in the day by delivering presentations.

It was commenced with mihi whakatau from Ngāti Whātua Ōrākei, mana whenua for the area, who opened the symposium and acknowledged the significance of the kaupapa in uplifting the wellbeing of kaumātua.

Te Pou’s National Manger for Leadership and System Change, Will Ward, provided a brief welcome and background to the symposium, before the MC for the day, Associate Professor Andy Towers from Massey University introduced the day.

The opening address was provided by Philip Grady, outgoing Director, Mental Health and Addictions, and Rachel Haggerty – Director Transformation & Enablers, Commissioning, from Te Whatu Ora, Health New Zealand. Phil and Rachel spoke to the importance of equity in the work of Te Whatu Ora, and acknowledged that older people are an important part of this.

This was followed with an address from Aotearoa’s first Aged Care Commissioner, Carolyn Cooper, who spoke to her new role and improving outcomes for older adults through advocating for quality health and disability services, supporting the government’s commitment to Te Tiriti o Waitangi, and providing strategic oversight and leadership to drive quality improvement.

Dr Gary Cheung, an old age psychiatrist and senior lecturer at the University of Auckland, provided an overview of new research which used routinely collected health data to estimate dementia prevalence in Aotearoa. The research provides evidence that dementia prevalence is higher in Māori and Pacific peoples, yet were less likely to receive funded anti-dementia medication. Dr Cheung called for more research, including a community based prevalence study to understand the true dementia prevalence in Aotearoa.

Dr Ngaire Kerse, who co-authored a paper for the Health Quality and Safety Commission (HQSC) on Older Māori and aged residential care, provided an overview of her report before introducing an example of mana-enhancing aged residential care in practice – Tina Chivers and Margaret Kincken from Goodwood Seadrome. Tina and Margaret spoke to their experiences of establishing a programme to enhance wellbeing, social connectedness and cultural identity for Kaumātua in their care. Key to this was partnership with Māori in designing the programme, and with rangatahi from a local high school who formed relationships with kaumātua and uplifted them with their energy as they visited Goodwood Seadrome.

Young onset dementia was another session at the symposium. Brigid Ryan from the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland acknowledged the unique challenges for people with young onset dementia, including a lack of age-appropriate services, and often delayed diagnoses, as well as the impact on partners and whānau.

Katheryn Butters provided an overview of Te Whāriki o Te Ara Oranga, the network for leaders and innovators in mental health and addictions in Aotearoa to connect and share research, innovation and best practice.

The final presentation of the symposium came from Clair McGowan Blair and Kerry Capelin, from the Mental Health Services for Older People, Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty, alongside Sandra Baxendine, Information Analyst with Te Pou. Claire, Kerry and Sandra spoke to the power of data, and how building a national picture can inform services and drive change. They spoke to the challenge of a lack a nationally consistent approach to funding, service delivery, and reporting, and about a recent project that Te Pou and Hauora a Toi Bay of Plenty undertook to understand what current data could tell them about what is happening within the region.

During the final part of the day, MC Andy Towers facilitated a group activity to identify current priorities facing the sector, and potential solutions. These were explored within the topics of equity, continuum of care, data and information, and workforce recruitment, training, and retention. A summary report based on this will be provided to the sector later this year.

Evaluations of the Symposium demonstrated its value for the sector, with 96% of those who responded to the evaluation rating the value of the day overall as good or very good. There was a strong demand for future in-person and virtual events, and for the opportunity to cover addiction, lived experience, and to explore national benchmarking and KPIs for the older persons’ sector.

Some of the feedback from attendees at the symposium are below:

“Extremely thought provoking presentations and discussions. Great networking.”'
“An enjoyable event. Good to catch up with what is happening around the country and to learn of the changes afoot.”
“Thank you very much for organizing this event I thoroughly enjoyed the whole program. Definitely need more of these.”

To be kept updated about future events related to this kaupapa, please email

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