New Technologies Deliver Real-World Benefits for an Aging Population
Research and Innovations Life can be lonely for seniors with isolating disabilities, but AGE-WELL helps make a meaningful difference for them and their caregivers with technology.
For seniors living with hearing or vision loss, motor skill challenges, or other isolating disabilities, life can be lonely. Richard Ratcliffe, a 91-year-old war veteran and former career naval officer, felt isolated after suffering profound hearing loss from “being a little too close to gunfire in Korea.” Ratcliffe, who lives in a long-term care home, says, “My tendency is to stay out of the conversation and that’s not good.”
Things dramatically changed for Ratcliffe when he discovered an easy-to-use platform called Connections, developed by start-up Famli.net. Using an iPad, Ratcliffe now “shares pictures, videos, audio, and text messages with family and friends on a daily basis,” says his daughter, Steph Gagne. “My father is no longer alone.”
Solutions for varied age-related challenges
Connections is one of many innovations supported by AGE-WELL, a pan-Canadian network of more than 250 researchers and over 275 industry, government, and non-profit partners working collaboratively to provide older adults and caregivers with technology-based solutions that make a meaningful difference in their lives. More than 4,700 older adults and caregivers are involved, ensuring that products are practical.
“One of our key mandates centres around empowering seniors to stay in their own homes and communities for as long as possible. [...] Technology allows us to do this in ways that we never could before.”
– Dr. Alex Mihailidis, AGE-WELL
“We bring together the best and brightest minds in the technology and aging space to improve quality of life and produce social and economic benefits for Canadians,” says Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Co-Director and CEO of AGE-WELL. “One of our key mandates centres around empowering seniors to stay in their own homes and communities for as long as possible, while remaining safe, independent, and active. Technology allows us to do this in ways that we never could before.”
Bringing needed products to market
AGE-WELL currently has research teams at 40 member universities and research centres across Canada. They’re at work on a wide array of technologies and services, including smart-home systems, remote therapies, and socially-assistive robots that can prompt people to do daily tasks, such as taking their medications. One of the products already on the market is a device developed by Braze Mobility that’s mounted on a wheelchair and detects obstacles, making it safer for the driver to get around. And there’s a new smartphone app that helps people manage their arthritis better.
Dr. Pooja Viswanathan and her obstacle-avoidance system for wheelchairs.
Products in development include an emergency response system that uses artifi cial intel ligence to ‘learn’ a per son’s habits — and knows when something has gone wrong. Another team is creating a smart bed loaded with pressure sensors to help predict and prevent health issues by monitoring movement, breathing, and fluid retention. A lot of thought also goes into the ethical, social, and cultural aspects of technology, and how public policy can help get it adopted. Through its work, AGE-WELL is making Canada a leader in the techno logy and aging sector.
As Canadians age, the demand for new technologies will continue to increase. “What we’re seeing is a different older adult demographic as baby boomers age,” Dr. Mihailidis remarks. “They’re tech-savvy and there’s a greater expectation that technology is going to be part of their daily lives and will work for them right out of the box. This hasn’t always been the case with a lot of the technology that currently exists in health care.”
AGE-WELL works to drive the sector forward so that everyone is pulling in the same direction. “It’s the only way to ensure that technologies are actually having an impact on the lives of older people, now and in the future,” says Dr. Mihailidis.
Launched in 2015, AGE-WELL is a federally funded Network of Centres of Excellence.