Flashes of inspiration! The Finnish Congress of Gerontology 2013

By Riita Antikainen

Best regards from the Finnish Congress of Gerontology in Helsinki 5—7.6.2013. We have a beautiful spring here. White snow turned suddenly to an unexceptional warm summer. We got the midsummer already in the beginning of June.

The main building  of Helsinki University  was the place to invite more than 800 participants on the area of gerontology  http://www.helsinki.fi/teknos/opetustilat/keskusta/f33/kuvat/jhv.jpg.   The meeting ran mainly in Finnish, but we also had international guests there and very well known to EUGSM members, current President Jean-Pierre Michel, past President Des O’Neill, Professor Vladimir Khavinson, President of the IAGG European Region, and Professor Annette Hylen-Ranhoff, active in the Nordic Gerontological Federation (NGF).

The main building of Helsinki University (http://www.helsinki.fi/teknos/opetustilat/keskusta/f33/kuvat/talo_f33.jpg) belongs to the historic centre designed originally in 1832 by a German, CL Engel, as a part of the monumental Senate Square of Helsinki during the times of Tsar Alexander II (Grand Duchess of Finland during the 19th century), whose statue proudly stands in the middle of the square. How many pictures have been taken from this statue??

In the main building, I expected to see the painting by Albert Edelfelt (did a portrait of Louis Pasteur in Paris among other things) about the ceremonies at Turku University. Finally, I found it – not above the imperial-era lectern but above the main entrance. Although the original painting was destroyed during the Helsinki air raids in February 1944, the copy was impressive.

“Requirements for A Good Life”, three days, seven parallel sessions, you know, it is not easy to give all in a nutshell! There were presentations about rehabilitation, polypharmacy,  interactions, long term care, memory clinics, orthogeriatrics, cardiovascular disease, care of older people and much else.  The common message was NOT to view older people as a burden and a problem but we should regard them as a positive power of the society.

The best poster presentation came from Helsinki: “Kun mummua ruokkii ukki, uhkaako keripukki?” A poem already, for those people who do not know Finnish: grandpa feeding grandma may result in scurvy (translation is not as poetic as original!). It means that if grandmother is feeding grandfather, the food is healthy and contains enough vitamin C, but this in not case when grandfather is feeding demented grandmother. Conclusion: if you know that granny is going to have a memory disease, you should send grandfather to a cookery class, or at least a nutritionist.

Among the lessons “to enjoy and respect the old age” Des O’Neill, (who seems to be an expert in Finnish culture and way of life) presented people who had an important position in their old ages. Included were Churchill and other very important men. From Finland on the list were included Sibelius, Mannerheim and Donner. Golda Meir from Israel, was the only female on the list. No powerful women?: Angela Merkel OK younger than me! Hillary Clinton 66 years, not old enough! Helvi Sipilä, a female Finnish lawyer and long time leader of Finnish scouts, was the first female working in a high position in the United Nations, etc.

Jörn Donner, really, a Finnish multicultural person. Writer, a film producer, director, actor, the only Oscar Winner in Finland, journalist…  The Finnish Society of Gerontology invited Mr Donner last spring to tell us how life is for an active citizen at the age of 80 years. The visit was cancelled by Mr Donner himself, because he was too busy and had to travel for business to Beirut just during the meeting!!

But we got a great presentation from Chief Conductor and Professor Jorma Panula, teacher of many internationally famous Finnish conductors such as Esa-Pekka Salonen . Prof. Panula, at 80 years, told us that the creativity does not disappear with ageing, but year by year it is more difficult, even impossible, to keep your hands up while conducting  for hours even without the stick!

Afterwards Des O´Neill went, (where else!) to the Ateneum, the national art museum of Finland. Because of the ongoing renovation of the presidential palace you can see the art from the residence, as well as the permanent exhibitions of national Finnish art. Des related that the paintings by Ellen Thesleff found the way to his heart. But an Irish taste about the Kalevala-based  paintings by Akseli Gallen-Kallela was not in agreement with the taste of 5.5 million Finnish people, to whom these paintings tell about the deepest feelings told by our national epic, the Kalevala.

Go to the new net pages of Ateneum and make your own decision! http://www.ateneum.fi/fi/sali-31.

Best wishes for the summer from Finland to all EUGMS colleagues.