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82-year-old Aussie to present at Hong Kong conference

Joy Conolly is set to catch a flight to Hong Kong to present at a global conference – at the impressive age of 82.

The great-grandmother has been invited to address the impact of social isolation at the 2018 US-Hong Kong Conference on Ageing Across Time and Contexts, with a key focus on a ground-breaking online program that is helping Australia’s senior citizens stay connected.

Hosted by aged care provider Feros Care, the Virtual Senior Centre (VSC) allows users to meet new people from the comfort of their homes via online groups as diverse as book and chat clubs, art workshops and music/dance sessions.

Ms Conolly, a professional psychologist, has held an advisory, facilitator and volunteer role with the VSC for the past two years after Feros Care was impressed by her ‘Friday Group’, a face-to-face gathering of older people who tackle serious topics such as grief, love and family.

The aged and community care provider has since named her one of its Feros Heroes.

“It’s very easy for seniors to feel isolated and I’m determined to help as many as I can find ways to overcome that desperation,” said Ms Conolly.

“Given the technology involved, the VSC has been a steep learning curve for many of our groups but I truly believe it is changing lives for the better.

“Some of these people were academics, professionals or social butterflies and are now facing mobility or health issues that keep them at home, but the VSC is giving them a chance to reconnect with people.

“I can’t wait to share the work we’re doing with delegates at the conference and the best part is I’m not a 25-year-old telling them how older people can tackle social isolation.

“I’m an 82-year-old living the same life they are.”

Ms Conolly, who will travel to the conference on her own, is planning to host a live VSC session as part of her presentation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Given my psychology background, I get a lot of emails about conferences and while I’m well over going to them, this one was different,” she said.

“I’m extremely passionate about this topic. They say the world has never been smaller but it’s also never been lonelier, especially for older people.

“It’s a very mobile world, with not as many adult children living as close to their elderly parents as they once did.

“Neighborhoods also aren’t what they used to be. People tend to just live in their own back yard. I’m not saying things were better when I was a child but you definitely knew everyone in the street.

“There are a lot of older people in a lot of trouble and a concept as simple as the VSC can make a huge difference to their lives.”

Feros Care Chief Executive Officer Jennene Buckley said the organisation was proud to support Ms Conolly’s appearance at the conference.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for one of our dedicated volunteers to share not only her insights into ageing but highlight how our Virtual Seniors Centre is having a positive impact on so many lives,” she said.

“We are presently working towards having 200 seniors actively participating in the VSC each week and will then look to create a number of virtual communities across Australia based on ages, interests and other ties that bond people including cultures and disabilities.

“Joy is an inspiration to so many of us at Feros Care and we could not think of a better advocate to represent us on the global stage.”

Ms Conolly, who lives independently at Currumbin on the Gold Coast, said her friends and family were not surprised to learn of her upcoming adventure.

“That’s nothing new,” she smiled. “I’m used to overseas travel and only last year visited my daughter in Chicago.

“It sounds ridiculous but until I turned 80, I had never actually thought about being 80. I remember thinking ‘Wow, 80 – now what’.

“I initially thought it was the end of the world but then I just did what I’ve always done and got on with living life.”

The 2018 US-Hong Kong Conference on Ageing Across Time and Contexts will be held on May 19-20.

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