Traditionally, Canadians have felt the path of aging includes long-term care. For some older Canadians, this may be the case but many in this growing demographic are expecting advancements in technology to enable them to stay independent at home longer, or for the rest of their lives. “Today’s older population is well-informed, better educated and more active,” says Michelle Fleming, a Knowledge Broker with the Ontario Centre for Learning, Research and Innovation in Long-Term Care at Bruyère.

There is great opportunity to meet the needs and changing expectations of this growing and powerful market. With advancements in home and driving technology, aging Canadians will break traditional stereotypes.

Smart homes

At the forefront of this revolution is Bruyère. Located in our nation’s capital, Bruyère is a multi-site academic health care organization that on any given day is serving over 1,000 aging people. It’s home to a Smart Apartment where scientists, innovators, and industry partners collaborate to test technologies that will keep older Canadians independent and at home.

Frank Knoefel, a physician with the Bruyère memory program and a scientist with the Bruyère Research Institute, helped design wandering detection technology to support both people with dementia, who are prone to wandering at night, and their caregivers who often lose sleep fearing their loved one will walk out the door. This technology is currently being tested at the Smart Apartment, in private homes and in senior’s residences in the community.

The system works with sensors that trigger cues to reorient a person who wanders. These cues can take the form of directional lighting or voice recordings (usually a family member) telling the person to go back to bed. “If, however, the person tries to open the front door,” says Knoefel, “an alarm is triggered to wake up other residents in the home.” 

With this technology, people with dementia and their caregivers are able to stay where they have told us they want to be — in their homes. 

Smart driving

Knoefel and Hillel Finestone, a physician in the stroke rehabilitation program, are part of a team researching whether a driving simulator can help aging Canadians stay behind the wheel longer. “Every week, I have to tell one of my patients that they can no longer drive,” says Knoefel. “It’s one of the worst things to happen because it takes away their independence.” 

When older adults stop driving, we witness declines in general health and function along with higher risks of admission to long-term care homes and mortality. There is great potential for the simulator and advances in the development of autonomous vehicles to monitor driving ability, identify skills that need to be relearnt, and provide the training and supports needed to keep seniors on the road safely. 

Research and development at Bruyère in this area will answer the call of aging Canadians to keep healthy, active, and autonomous in the community. 

As the percentage of aging Canadians continues to increase, they collectively will continue to transform the conversa tion around aging. Bruyère will continue to listen and push the envelope on care, research, and innovation to promote independence.