According to the World Health Organization, about 47.5 million people worldwide have dementia and 7.7 million new cases are diagnosed each year.  The Alzheimer Society of Canada estimates that over half a million Canadians are living with the disease and that number is expected to grow to 937,000 by 2031.
Recognizing the challenge these rising numbers pose to our economy, society and health care system, the Canadian government is developing a national dementia strategy in parallel with the provinces and territories to foster the development of innovative technologies, therapies, and services that will support dementia patients and their caregivers.

Canada: a global leader

“Canada is already a leader in aging and brain health innovation,” says Ron Riesenbach, Vice-President of Innovation and Chief Technology Officer at the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation (CC-ABHI) and Baycrest Health Sciences (Baycrest) in Toronto. “We now need to focus our efforts to support the companies and health care innovators to scale their innovations so that it reaches the people who need it most.”

Supported by the Canadian and Ontario governments, CC-ABHI was established in 2015 to promote aging and brain health. “We offer a number of funding programs to support health care professionals, researchers, and companies who are focused on aging and brain health solutions to develop, test, and bring these innovative solutions to market,” says Riesenbach. “By validating their innovations in a real-world setting, innovators will be able to rapidly commercialize their products or services. As well, their trial site partners will become early adopters and use these innovations at their respective care facilities.”

One of last year’s Spark Program recipients was Jennifer Donovan, a nurse and Clinical Research Coordinator at York Care Centre in Fredericton, NB, who is leading the development of a mobile application to better manage the many medications taken by older adults with dementia. “We noticed that medication reviews for many of these patients were not always done as often or as effectively as they should have been,” says Donovan. She and her team are now gathering relevant criteria from the medical literature to determine which medications need to be reviewed, reduced, or discontinued by these patients.

Optimizing their medications through this technology should lead to improved physical and cognitive function.

“With the support of CC-ABHI, successful applicant companies can test and validate their technologies in an appropriate care environment to acquire the evidence needed to successfully market their products into the seniors’ care and brain health marketplaces,” says Riesenbach. These may not necessarily be companies focused on senior care technologies, but they may have a new idea they’d like to target toward an older adult population or an existing health care technology they’d like to repurpose to the senior patient population, particularly ones with dementia.

A role for everyone

As Canada’s population continues to age and dementia rates rise, we can get ahead of future challenges by taking innovative approaches today. “I think it’s important for all of us to start thinking now about how to contribute to the evolution of health care for seniors so that by the time the next generation gets to that age, they will have an environment that’s more supportive and engaging,” says Riesenbach. “New innovations and technologies will lead to an improved quality of life for older adults and the opportunity for them to age in the setting of their choice."