Minister Brady Addresses International Conference – Ageing, Health and Quality of Life Of people with Intellectual Disability

I am delighted to join you today and I would also like to thank Professor McCarron for her kind invitation to be here at what I consider, and judging by the attendance, what many others from a variety of backgrounds consider, a very timely and important Conference.

In developed countries, the 21st century is considered the ‘century of ageing’. The expected rise in the older population in general and specifically in the population of older people with an intellectual disability is a demographic certainty that will bring significant challenges and opportunities in the years ahead.

The Government must plan for this change, just as it has to plan for any change and we are fortunate to have a window of opportunity and time to plan properly to get things right for the future.

The Government is committed to a society that recognises the diversity of older people and to one in which all older people are encouraged and supported in their efforts to live healthy, fulfilling, independent lives.

As Minister for Older People and Health Promotion, one of the priorities of my Office is to develop the National Positive Ageing Strategy to better recognise the position of older people in Irish society and to set the direction for future policies, programmes and services for older people in Ireland.

In the past, policy relating to older people tended to focus on health and social care issues. However, the Positive Ageing Strategy will have a broader focus given the range of factors that impact on older people’s health, well-being and quality of life – including socio-economic status, housing, transport, education, family, employment and broader social interactions.

I am pleased to say that the work of preparing the new Strategy is now well underway. In the summer of last year, I called for submissions on the Strategy, which resulted in 186 inputs from a broad range of agencies and individuals, some of which are here today. Following on from the call for submissions, I held a series of public consultation meetings around the country to hear at first hand the views of older people on issues that affect them.

Very importantly, in order to ensure that all older people were given equal voice during the consultation process, we also convened separate meetings in Leinster House to hear the views of vulnerable or marginalised groups, such as those with an intellectual disability.

Specific issues that were mentioned at these meetings included difficulties encountered when chronological age rather than need defines eligibility criteria for services and the need for a more concerted focus on the delivery of person-centred services as opposed to ‘one size fits all’ approach.

Furthermore, the double discrimination experienced by these groups of older people was consistently mentioned.

Full consideration will be given to all of these issues in the formulation a Positive Ageing Strategy that respects the diversity of needs and preferences among our older population.

In addition, given that the Strategy will have a much wider focus on issues relevant to older people across the public policy process, the development of mechanisms to promote coherence and integration in planning across programmes and services will be prioritised.

I believe that this integration will result in better connections being made on areas of common interest to Minister Moloney’s and my Office and will, ultimately, lead to better outcomes and a better quality of life for older people with an intellectual disability.

A central ingredient in good planning and policy development for older people in Ireland now and into the future will be the availability of good data and evidence about our older people.

Though the number of valuable national cross-sectional datasets has grown significantly in the last decade, there is an emerging consensus internationally that we also need longitudinal information about the dynamic process of ageing in order to enhance our understanding of the patterns of ageing and to demonstrate how outcomes might be linked to various influences.

The main TILDA study will capture the process of ageing for a representative sample of older Irish people in a holistic way. In recognition of TILDA’s potential to fill a number of information gaps in relation to what we know (or in many cases, what we don’t know) about older people, in 2008, my Office committed substantial funding for the main TILDA study and I would like to mention the on-going positive collaboration between Profs Brendan Whelan and Rose Anne Kenny and my staff in the Office for Older People in this regard.

During the Positive Ageing Strategy consultation process, it was also noted that data on the circumstances of some groups of older people (such as those with specific disabilities) was limited and that without this data, it would be difficult for policy-makers to be fully tuned into and to accommodate their specific needs and preferences.

The data derived from TILDA ID will form a central plank in a better awareness of the issues specific to ageing with an intellectual disability and will, therefore, enable a better tailoring of policies and programmes for older people so that they can be enabled to live and participate fully in community life.

TILDA ID is truly pioneering work. Not only will we have, for the first time, longitudinal data on ageing with an intellectual disability in Ireland, we will also be able to compare the results of the main TILDA study with those of the TILDA ID supplement, and, for the first time both in Ireland and internationally, be in a position to determine if the influences on successful ageing with an intellectual disability are the same or different to the general population.

Furthermore, given that a significant number of older people have a disability and a significant number of people with a disability are aged 65 years and over, the study findings will provide the evidence-base needed to support the strengthening of the interface between disability and older people’s services.

I believe that we are currently at a very important juncture in the lives of older people in Ireland. We must respond to the challenges posed by an ageing society by consulting with older people and by adopting an evidence-based approach to service planning and delivery to ensure the best quality of life for all older people now and into the future. I believe that hearing the voices of older people through TILDA and TILDA ID will make an enormous contribution in this regard.

I have no doubt that you will find today’s event stimulating, and I would like to congratulate Prof McCarron and her team on their efforts to date and wish them every success into the future.

Go raibh mile maith agaibh go leir.