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Second Older Persons Mental Health and Addiction Leadership Day energises sector

Over 100 people gathered in Ōtautahi Christchurch for the second Older Persons Mental Health and Addiction Leadership Day, held on 15 May 2024. The event built on work that began at the inaugural leadership day held in Te Whanganui-a-Tara Wellington in November last year, with a packed agenda that covered lived experience, workforce development, addiction, and new developments from across the motu.

Here, Dr Helen Lockett, strategic lead at Te Pou, reflects on the day.

An energising, content-rich and conversation-full day. This second older person’s mental health and addiction leadership day offered the space to elevate and take action to support older persons’ mental health and addiction experiences. Whilst specialist support and services and a workforce are needed, it is crucial that as we go through health system reforms, we do not further silo older persons health into physical health, mental health, and addiction.

All the speakers were excellent and engaging, and our MC, Associate Professor and Te Pou board member, Andy Towers guided us once again through a wonderful, action-packed day.

Dr Makarena Dudley’s presentation set the day off beautifully. As a researcher, I want to acknowledge the wisdom, courage and commitment of Makarena and the team at the Centre for Brain Research at the University of Auckland. Their research is outstanding and world-leading, and an example of generating knowledge which advances Māori health. Informed by the experiences of kaumatua and kuia, these tools are culturally grounded and culturally validated. Wairua is a component uniquely included in the tool to gain an in-depth understanding of spirituality and wellbeing amongst older Māori and build rapport between the practitioner and the person.

Several speakers, including Lee Henley and the team from 65 Alive (the only specialist alcohol and other drugs service for older persons’ in Aotearoa) challenged us to think about how we ask older adults about alcohol. The importance of asking, in a non-judgemental, supportive way. Most importantly, Margaret shared her lived experience of the 65 Alive programme. Reminding us that no one is ever too old to reach for or accept support and to make changes.

Trish Gledhill from Te Pou made sure we do not forget the importance of older persons’ health in the Let’s get real framework, as she introduced us to a game of ‘balloon volleyball’ across our tables.

Senior leaders from Te Whatu Ora, Karla Bergquist, Dr Murray Patton, Ian McKenzie, and Michelle Ball, shared some of the health sector reform updates with us, highlighting the importance of a continued focus on mental health and addiction support and services in these reforms.

Emma Fromings, the mental health services lead and a Health Improvement Practitioner at Tū Ora Compass Health, connected with our hearts by reading a poem about the experience of dementia, on the person and whānau. She then highlighted the trailblazing work she leads to improve the recognition and response in primary care to early cognitive changes.

Thanks to everyone, speakers and participants. These days are so important to connect with like-minded people, hear the latest evidence, and advance our collective thinking on areas of the health system where greater visibility and focus are much needed.

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