Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A day in Leiden by Aukje de Vries

My friend Cora, who lives in Amsterdam, and I have decided to meet in Leiden, halfway between Amsterdam and The Hague. We will spend the day there and try to make some plans for a trip at the end of the summer. Just after having left the station, we see a brand new tourist office. It may have useful information so we decide on a short stop there. Are there any good expositions or interesting walks to places visitors do not usually get to see? We get extensive information about Leiden, some nice brochures and an explanation as if we never visited the city before. The tourist office also sells products but we resist this temptation. Once outside we look at each other. Neither of us dared to say to the lady in the office that we know Leiden quite well. Both of us studied there in the late fifties and lived there for at least six years. It is a nice day, although quite fresh. The best option seems to be to go to the botanical gardens. Leiden has, right behind the main university building, a beautiful botanical garden with many plants from tropical regions. On the way Cora shows me an almshouse. Leiden has no less than 35 of them, which are now advertised as places that tourists can visit. Rich people or churches founded them hundreds of years ago to house poor elderly women.In most cases you enter them through a building and then you reach a courtyard around which small houses are built. Usually they are not only very pretty with a well kept garden, but also very quiet and secluded. We look around and try to figure out how large the houses are. We look into one and see it is really tiny. Its inhabitant obviously is not home. A young man, leaving one of the other houses, asks us if we need information. He tells us this is one of the smallest apartments; the others are about double this size. He has now lived here for a number of years. The inhabitants are both students and young workers. He came in as a young worker and expects to leave in a few years. He then will be able to afford a larger house so it will be time to let someone else have his little house.

When we reach the botanical gardens it is time for coffee; we take our time to catch up with each other. In the botanical gardens there are leftovers of an orchid exhibition. There are orchids everywhere of all sizes and colours. I regret not having brought my camera, they are so beautiful. Having marveled at the beautiful, exotic plants in the hothouses we walk through the garden and enjoy the pretty blossoms and the flowers that are already in bloom. Cora points out where she lived while studying at Leiden University.

We can see it from where we are. She lived in Leiden a few years before me. We got to know each other later when both of us lived in Amsterdam . When we leave the gardens it is high time for a lunch in a nearby café. It is too cold to sit outside, unfortunately. During lunch we try to decide if we can go on another vacation together in the late summer or early fall. Last year we went to St Petersburg together and this worked out fine. What can we do this year? Cora forgot to bring her diary so she does not know exactly which dates she has available. Both of us have already quite a few commitments for that period. It will be not be easy to find a time that suits both of us. There are four alternative destinations, all of them in Southern Europe that we might like to visit. But first the dates should be settled. Upon leaving the café we see another almshouse. This one has a plaque with information. It was established in 1650 by Eva van Hoogeveen. It was meant for chaste, elderly women and while living there they were obliged to wash themselves at least once a month. Difficult to imagine!!

It is already halfway the afternoon when we leave this almshouse and slowly walk in the direction of the station. We pass the Frisian baker that was already there in the fifties. They still bake the bread on the spot, including specialties from Friesland (a Northern province of The Netherlands ). We end our day at Leiden with a walk through another historic area that was less accessible in the period when we lived in Leiden. On our way we learn some more facts about the history of Leiden from the plaques that are on some of the buildings. We are very satisfied with a lovely day in Leiden, but our holiday plans still remain to be made.

Many older persons, like Marja and Cora, find themselves living alone. Do you team up with a friend to travel or enjoy the local sights? Tell us about it.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Strengthening Older People’s Rights: Towards a UN Convention

Despite the fact that older women and men have the same rights as everyone else, older women and men around the world face age discrimination and are denied their rights on a regular basis. The world is ageing fast and age discrimination is increasing. This discrimination is completely unacceptable. Older women’s well being is doubly jeopardized when they are subjected to both age and gender discrimination.

Existing human rights instruments do not provide adequate legal protection of the rights of older people. In practice too, older women and men’s rights are not being adequately addressed or protected through the existing human rights system.

The time has come for a special rapporteur and a convention on the rights of older people. These new human rights instruments would help change attitudes towards older women and men and increase their visibility at both national and international levels. A new convention would also clarify government responsibilities towards older women and men, improve accountability and provide a framework for policy and decision making.

In collaboration with eight other international organizations, Global Action on Aging presents this new publication entitled “
Strengthening Older People’s Rights: Towards a UN Convention.” This publication was produced to strengthen understanding and awareness of the need for a special rapporteur and convention on the rights of older people. It aims to provide the arguments and tools for engaging people – from older women and men themselves to civil society organizations to government officials – across the globe in debate about older people’s rights and the role of a convention and special rapporteur. It also suggests ways in which individuals and civil society organizations can promote these new human rights instruments in their countries.

As civil society organizations, we have an important role to play in ensuring that older women and men shape, and are part of, the discussion about their rights. We hope that this publication will help you facilitate their inclusion in this discussion.

For further information, please contact Global Action on Aging at

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Aging, Dementia, and Driving. When to Turn in the Keys?

A new study by the American Academy of Neurology has issued guidelines to help determine when people with Alzeiher's Disease and Dementia should stop driving. “While some people with dementia can still drive safely for a time, nearly all people with dementia will eventually have to give up driving,” said lead guideline author Donald J. Iverson, MD.

However, as Paul Span writes in the New York Times, these guidelines are not as clear cut as we would hope they would be. While the study states that those with Dementia will ultimate have to stop driving, it also cites many studies that show those with mild dementia can often still pass driivng tests.

So do we worry about drivers with dementia, or not?

The researchers recommend that caregivers and family members should "trust their instincts." If the person with Alzeheimer's Disease seems to be showing some of the warning signs that the study presents, then they should bring it up with the person's doctor.

Dementia isn't the only issue to think about with aging drivers. Weakened vision, hearing, and slower reaction speeds are all normal effects of aging in the healthiest people. By 2030 the US will have an estimated two-thirds more older drivers on the road than we do today. How do we prepare for this change?

One way to prepare is to re-test older drivers to refresh their skills and find those drivers who are no longer safe to drive. The AARP offers
an online driving course for older drivers. Taking this course can help older drivers refresh their knowledge and skills, as well as receive discounts on their car insurance rates.

The laws on retesting older drivers differ by state, but very few require seniors to take a road test. Some states require seniors to come into the DMV for an vision test, and others allow seniors to send in verified documentation of an eye exam.

And then what of the seniors who fail their tests are deemed unfit to drive? Limiting the use of a car can severely restrict older people's ability to get around, especially in rural or remote places. They can't necessarily negotiate a long walk, and
the limits of public transportation can be too cumbersome to bear. This means that basic means for living, such as visits to the doctor, grocery store, bank, etc are all limited by lack of transportation.

There are senior-specific public options that are meant to help seniors get around at a low cost. New York's federally-mandated Access-A-Ride is one option, but this program can be glitchy, with long waiting times.

With driving or public transportation, getting around for the older population seems to be troublesome either way. If we are going to be more stringent on limiting senior drivers, then we must couple this with expanding public transportation options that are both convenient and affordable.

Monday, April 12, 2010

What is our neighborhood magazine for? by Aukje de Vries

The neighborhood where I live has a neighborhood association which is open to all inhabitants. The association also has a magazine, which appears 6 times a year.

According to the statutes of the association the final responsibility for this magazine rests with the board of the association. There is an editorial committee and there are also internal rules which regulate the rights and responsibilities of the editors of the magazine. Now the statutes are a little different than the internal rules, the latter giving the editors slightly more rights. But in the end it is clear that the board has the final say about the magazine. A few months ago we learned there had been a conflict between the board and the editorial committee. The editors had resigned and the board had taken over the magazine.

The first issue with the board as editors was a great improvement in my eyes. The magazine as it used to be was printed on glossy paper, had lots of advertisements of local shop keepers and other independent agents such as lawyers, therapists, real estate brokers and the like. The magazine usually contained very little news of any importance, it was mostly filled with articles about a local shopkeeper whose shop celebrated its 25th anniversary, new trees planted in a street, the problems with sea gulls, which come into the city in the summer and make lots of noise, the history of a building somewhere in the neighborhood, an inhabitant who had written a book about a historic figure, but hardly any news worth knowing. The best read were the few pages filled by the board, where board members informed us of their activities regarding municipal decisions concerning traffic and construction and their negotiations with the city government on these issues.

In recent years the municipalities have taken on considerably more responsibilities for social services and community development. I should like to read about this in our magazine as well as about the many social and cultural organizations which must be active here, but about which I know next to nothing. But none of it. I found the magazine extremely dull and hardly worth reading. In previous meetings of the neighborhood association I had heard some criticism of the magazine, but there were always other members who immediately came to the fore saying it was an excellent production. I never understood why. Now the editorial committee has resigned, but a group of members has requested a special meeting of the neighborhood association to discuss the conflict.

I went to the meeting because I want to support the board and ask for more news in the magazine on social issues.

I don’t think I have ever attended a meeting of the association with so many persons present. There are barely enough seats. The President of the association tells us that the meeting will be chaired by an independent lawyer, if the meeting agrees. The situation is explained. The conflict is a classical conflict between the board of the association and the editors where the board has disagreed with some of the articles of the editors. The editors claimed independence and the maintenance of journalistic standards. The conflict has already existed for quite a while and at a certain stage help has been asked from an independent mediator. Without success.

The chair suggests that we do not go into all the details of the conflict; the positions are clear, it is important that the conflict be solved and the magazine can be continued.

Most of the persons who want the floor nonetheless ask for ever more details about the conflict and the mediation. Although the mediation was supposed to be strictly confidential, we are even informed of what has been going on in that process. When I try to take the floor and want to say that as a reader I am not very pleased with the contents of the magazine, others got a chance to speak first. They praised the editorial committee saying it did such a fine job, we have such a wonderful magazine, possibly the best of the entire city. Applause.

When I finally get the floor the speaker before me has again spoken very positively about the magazine, so I react maybe a bit too directly saying I do not think at all the quality of the magazine is good. I told them that I think it is rather poor and does not reflect what is going on in the neighborhood. I want to read about social issues and about the consequences for our neighborhood of the Act on Social Development. What plans does the local government have for our neighborhood and what do the citizens want? Murmurs but no applause. Someone says: “At least a clear opinion”. It is evident that the majority of the people don’t share my opinion. The meeting continues and closing time of the hall (10.00 p.m.) approaches.

The chair proposes to adjourn the meeting to give both parties, the board and the editorial committee, time to decide how to end the conflict. They get five minutes. They leave the hall and come back 15 minutes later. The outcome of the deliberations is thatthe editorial committee, which has already resigned, will get a big thank you in the next meeting of the association. I am surprised they reached this conclusion so quickly, but agree with the solution.

Next day I get a phone call from Geraldine, a highly qualified and active senior, who is, like me, interested in social issues. She says: I am glad you brought up the Act on Social Development. Geraldine too, feels that our neighborhood magazine was not at all informative. She tells me some stories about the editorial committee. Their policy was to represent the neighborhood as healthy, wealthy and happy in order to make the local shop keepers and entrepreneurs advertise, thinking the inhabitants are their ideal clientele. Therefore the editors did not want to publish any articles on poverty, loneliness, lack of care or other social problems. In the mean time the committee has built up considerable reserves out of the advertisements. According to Geraldine the committee had brought all its friends and relations to the meeting to speak favourably about them; that is why most people made such positive remarks.

Why don’t you write an article for the magazine, Geraldine asks. Because I do not know what is going on socially in this neighborhood, that is precisely what I want the magazine for.

Just wait, I’ll come back to you, Geraldine says. And, knowing Geraldine, I am sure she will. We’ll see.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Clairy by Aukje de Vries

Clairy Polak, a woman in her mid fifties anchors a News show called Nova, which is on public TV six evenings a week after the 10 o’clock news bulletin. A very nice woman with wavy grey hair (hurrah for someone who does not dye her hair!), she’s an excellent interviewer. Interviewees cannot get away leaving her questions unanswered. She knows her subjects; she asks very informed questions about any issue under discussion, however complicated, such as the economic situation. With a charming smile on her face, she keeps probing.

I won’t explain to you how public broadcasting works in The Netherlands, it is too complicated. Let it suffice to tell you that it will be reorganized. Another show, News Hour, will replace Nova. Clairy will not be in this programme.I hate to see her go. It will be a loss to public TV and Clairy does not deserve this. Is it because she is an older woman? There are far too few older women on Dutch TV. I Googled her name and read many comments that label her a leftist and therefore want to see her go. I don’t agree; I think her interviews are fair and objective and meet high journalistic standards.

What can we do? I ask my Older Women’s Group: shall we start an e-mail action? All of us want Clairy to stay. I am advised to first find out if Clairy herself would agree with our action. The broadcasting organisation which employs her, says we need not bother, she will be happy if we do so.

So I prepared a message for organisations responsible for the new programme, saying “Clairy must stay.” We sent copies to most everyone we knew and who might be interested in the issue. A nice result is that some people from whom I have not heard in a long time not only forward our message to the broadcasting organisations, but also come back to me with greetings. Others tell me they will ask other organisations to take action as well.

It is not possible to trace how many e-mails have resulted from our action. However, soon we hear the news comes that Clairy will be an interviewer on the new programme. This new assignment is really more along her line than being the anchor woman. In the media it is said this is because of the reactions of the public and of a TV show. Do they mean us? Did the pay attention to our reactions? We will never know, but Clairy, an older woman and an excellent role model, will stay. And that is what we want.

Have you tried to influence public opinion in a similar way? What were your results?