Twenty years a-growing: EuGMS Athens 2021
Desmond (Des) O’Neill is a geriatrician, Professor of Medical Gerontology at Tallaght University Hospital, Dublin, and a former President of the EuGMS from 2010-2011.
How time flies! While perception of time speeds up as we age and grow, it does not seem like just over two decades since I was one of a group of European geriatricians meeting in Paris to develop a European society of geriatric medicine, EuGMS. Later in forming a European grouping than many other specialties, the task was assisted by our getting to know each other through meetings of the Geriatric Medicine Section of the European Union of Medical Specialists. This was formulated to advise the European Union on minimum standards of training of geriatricians when geriatric medicine was formally recognized as a specialty by the European Union in 1995.
Despite the fact that the practice of geriatric medicine differs between European countries to a greater extent than other specialties, it was clear that more united us than separated us: the concept was enthusiastically adopted, with official registration in Brussels and our first congress in Paris both taking place in 2001. Starting at a gentle tempo, congresses were held every two years until 2010, with smaller special topic symposia in the intervening years. Following the successful meeting in Copenhagen in 2008, we decided to move to annual meetings starting with the Dublin congress in 2010.
The congresses have grown from strength to strength, allying original research, focused symposia, expert overviews, and for the first few years, a continuous professional development track to support those in countries where geriatric medicine is less developed. With due respect to national society meetings, the congress has become the most vibrant and dynamic geriatric medicine platform in the world, with high academic standards synergising with cross-national comparison and innovation. The meetings also have been characterised by cultural celebrations resonating with ageing, from museums through symphonic concerts to art and folklore.
After the challenge of hosting a (successful) online congress in 2020, the Athens Congress was notable for not only celebrating 20 years of EuGMS, but also successfully blending an in-person and online congress. Over 600 delegates (vaccinated and masked!) attended in the conference centre, with a greater number online, and were treated to an effective mix of online and in-person presentations. The only downside for early-career geriatricians and trainees was the virtual poster session which lacked the vibrant in-person interactions, although I also enjoyed reviewing all posters using the effective online format.
The standard of presentations was very high, with an expectedly major focus on all aspects of COVID-19 , from laboratory bench to nursing home, but also covering all aspects of geriatric medicine. It was wonderful to meet old colleagues again as well as new and emerging talents in European geriatric medicine, and particularly pleasurable to do so in person.
Held in the shadow of the Parthenon, the cultural event of the meeting was a remarkable concert by an icon of Greek culture, Maria Farantouri, singing with an astonishing voice at the age of 73, a wide tessitura and deep emotional impact the songs of the recently deceased Mikis Theodorakis. The concert was ably curated by Athanase Benetos, the EuGMS President and originally a native of Athens. Discoveries for me were Theodorakis’ heart-rending Mauthausen Trilogy from his time in the notorious concentration camp, and that one of his most popular songs was to words by the Irish playwright, Brendan Behan!
Notable too at the Congress were the activities of the many Special Interest Groups of the EuGMS – I currently co-chair for Long-Term Care along with an Icelandic colleague, with a Czech colleague as Secretary. In addition, there was prominence for our journal, European Geriatric Medicine, which has provided an emerging focus for academic geriatric medicine since 2010, and which is now published by Springer, transferring over from Elsevier in 2018.
While the spread of presenters and delegates has been truly pan-European, the EuGMS congresses have been an important resource and focus for geriatricians in the UK and Ireland, and we are looking forward to a further exceptional congress in London from 28-30 September 2022 – a date for your diaries.