A research network for an ageing society in Canada

Written by Urs Obrist, STC, Embassy of Switzerland in Ottawa

The AGE-WELL NCE (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life NCE Inc.) is a Canadian research network in technology and aging. AGE-WELL was launched in 2015 through the federally funded Networks of Centres of Excellence program and runs from March 2015 to February 2020. AGE-WELL addresses a wide range of complex issues in technology and aging through receptor-driven transdisciplinary research, training programs, partnerships, knowledge mobilization and the commercial development of technologies. It aims to help older Canadians to maintain their independence, health and quality of life through accessible technologies that increase their safety and security, support their independent living, and enhance their social participation.

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Research

AGE-WELL consists of a research program that aims to develop innovative and cutting-edge social and technological solutions that will support older adults to age well and caregivers to perform at their best. The core research program involves an integrated set of eight Work-packages (WPs) to carry out the research. All research is to be supported by four core crosscutting activities, i.e.: Knowledge Mobilization; Commercialization and Technology Transfer; Transdisciplinary Working; and Training and Mentorship.

The first Work-package aims to identify the needs of older adults, and how technology could be used for their requirements. It looks, for example, to explore the technology needs of remote and indigenous people, how to get the elderly involved in technology research and development, or how to engage people with dementia in product design and commercialization. The second Work-package focuses on the needs of caregivers, such as innovative assistive technologies that care for the caregiver or training of caregivers on assistive devices for the elderly.

The Work-packages 3 and 4 investigate which technology-based systems and services should be used to enhance the health, well-being of older adults and support independent living. This could be mobile robotics for activities of daily living assistance, collaborative power mobility for an aging population, or adaptable intelligent domestic environments. It also elaborates on technology for active participation in society with the promotion of innovative communication platforms and promoting social connectedness through gaming and online learning.

The fifth Work-package is centered around ambient-based physiological and functional monitoring, technologies to prevent and detect falls, in-home exercise systems for physical rehabilitation, or using eHealth to enhance the participation of adults with subjective cognitive decline.

The importance of good mental and cognitive health is reflected in Work-package 6. Currently, 747,000 Canadians have some type of cognitive impairment, including dementia, and this number is expected to double to 1.4 million by 2031. Furthermore, 20% of Canadian seniors are living with a mental health issue. Thus, the development of software applications for screening, assessment and interventions to enhance mental health and cognitive function, and tools that can automatically detect behaviours that lead to poor cognitive and mental health are an essential endeavor. A good example is the Work-package 6.2 entitled Automated assessments of cognitive impairment using environment-based sensing. Project Leader Eleni Stroulia (University of Alberta) aims to take advantage of the opportunity that sensors represent today, in order to develop an integrated, easy to configure and to deploy, hardware-software system for analyzing the sensors’ data for evidence of potential future cognitive decline. This work is at the core of the AGE-WELL vision “to help older Canadians to maintain their independence, health and quality of life (QOL) through accessible ICTs that increase their safety and security”. It should also lead to cost-effective technical solutions for recognizing – ahead of time – indicators of potential future cognitive decline.

The last two Work-packages address how policies can be shaped, regulatory issues solved and ethical challenges properly dealt with in order to foster innovation in the short and long-term to benefit older people, health care providers and Canadian Industry.

For more detailed information about the researches involved in the work-packages and the AGE-WELL program as a whole see: http://agewell-nce.ca/about-us

The two AGE-WELL Core Facilities

AGE-WELL Core Facilities promote and trigger national and international interactions for AGE-WELL and provide physical and/or virtual venues for researchers to meet, collaborate and exchange ideas. They provide research expertise and support across the Network. One of them is at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia. The other is the iDAPT Centre for Rehabilitation Research in Toronto.

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The Toronto Rehabilitation Institute is part of the University Health Network and is home to the iDAPT (intelligent Design, Adaptation, Participation and Technology) Research Centre. IDAPT is considered one of the most technologically advanced rehabilitation research centres in the world. The iDAPT research facilities include state-of-the-art laboratories including a subterranean motion simulator with removable payloads and additional simulation labs that are used for the development and testing of new technologies. The iDAPT research centre has commercialized several products aimed at maximizing life for people living with the effects of disability, illness and aging.

As an AGE-WELL NCE Core Facility the iDAPT Centre provides access to its simulation environments to AGE-WELL network investigators to support the development and commercialization of new technologies, use of its unique environments as demonstration sites for potential investors, and educational supports for AGE-WELL investigators to help move their technologies to market.

The Rehab’s research team includes more than 85 scientists and over 200 graduate and postdoctoral students. The investigators bring a rich and varied mix of academic, technical and clinical experience to the table and collaborate in a multidisciplinary environment where engineers trade ideas with industrial designers, and social scientists work alongside clinicians, patients and research support staff in state-of-the-art labs.

For information see: http://www.idapt.ca/index.php/about-us/about-toronto-rehab-research

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