New Technologies For Healthy Aging And Better Brain Health
Research and Innovations As Canada’s population ages, finding ways to support older Canadians in living full and independent lives is crucial.
AGE-WELL is a pan-Canadian network of researchers, non-profits, industry, government, older adults, and caregivers that is harnessing the power of new technologies to provide useful solutions for healthy aging.
“When I was fresh out of engineering school, I met a man who was caring for his wife who had early onset dementia,” says AGE-WELL Scientific Co-Director Dr. Alex Mihailidis. “He was telling me about all the difficulties they had and he said, ‘wouldn’t it be great if technology could help us solve these problems?’ That idea really stuck with me.”
Solutions for aging’s varied issues
Today, AGE-WELL research teams are developing humanoid robots that can assist older Canadians with dementia in their homes by reminding people of tasks and routines, playing brain-strengthening games with them, and even acting as a remote avatar for medical professionals.
Another team is testing a smart glove which takes the same vibration-damping technology that stabilizes buildings against earthquakes, and uses it to reduce hand tremors from Parkinson’s disease and other movement disorders.
There’s a new tablet software that analyzes a person’s speech to detect and monitor Alzheimer’s. And an add-on system that turns a regular powered wheelchair into one that automatically alerts the user to obstacles. The list goes on.
Not just better technology, but better access to it
“We have over 40 research projects underway that will benefit older people, including those with neurological conditions, and their caregivers — while also producing economic and social benefits for Canadians and the global community,” say AGE-WELL Scientific Co-Director Dr. Andrew Sixsmith.
“One common challenge that people have is identifying the services, supports and technologies that are available to them, and finding the right ones for their needs,” he says. AGE-WELL teams are developing powerful online platforms that match people with the right solutions.
Interwoven with all these initiatives are questions of privacy, ethics, and access. What are the consent issues surrounding assistive technology for people with dementia? When does Internet connectivity of smart home systems become a privacy concern? What can be done to enhance access to technologies across the country? AGE-WELL sees these questions not as afterthoughts but as fundamental to the mission.
It’s this big picture approach that is positioning Canada to become a world leader in the development of technologies for healthy aging. “Canada has great talent in this area,” says Dr. Mihailidis. “And a key mandate of AGE-WELL is to bring everyone together and make Canada a global leader in this field.”
Launched in 2015, AGE-WELL is a federally funded Network of Centres of Excellence.