Dr. Alex Mihailidis
Scientific Co-Director & CEO, AGE-WELL
Now more than ever, older Canadians are eager to embrace new technologies — if they have the right tools and support.
Canada’s older adults are no strangers to the isolation, loneliness, and need for remote services that so many Canadians are currently struggling with. The COVID-19 pandemic has only thrown these particular challenges into sharp relief. Fortunately, as many of us are now discovering, technology can play a significant role in easing these difficulties.
“The COVID-19 situation is forcing us to go online for a lot of interactions and supports that we may have accessed differently before,” says Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Co-Director and CEO of AGE-WELL, Canada’s technology and aging network. “The pandemic has highlighted the many ways in which technology can support older adults and their caregivers.”
Technology can help people stay connected, safe, and living independently in their own homes as they age. Communications platforms, smart-home sensors, remote therapies, and wearables are just some of AGE-WELL’s areas of activity. To promote connectedness, network researchers have pioneered solutions like FamliNet, a platform that offers seniors with little or no computer experience an easy way to stay in touch with family and friends. There are also so-called “serious games” that connect older people socially and help them maintain physical and cognitive health.
To further support physical health and safety, AGE-WELL-supported startups have developed apps for managing arthritis and recovering from knee replacement surgery at home. Smart-home sensors are being created to identify potentially-risky situations in the kitchen and signal people to turn off the stove or take other corrective actions. Many other products are either in development or already available.
Technology helps older Canadians stay independent, when it’s properly designed
A poll from 2019, before the pandemic was even on the radar, found that 8 in 10 Canadians over the age of 65 believed that technological advances could help them stay safe, independent, and in their own homes longer.
The guiding principle, however, is that these technologies should be developed in collaboration with people from different disciplines and sectors, including the people who will use them. With 42 member universities and research centres across Canada, AGE-WELL brings together more than 250 researchers, over 750 trainees, and almost 400 industry, government, and non-profit partners. More than 4,700 older adults and caregivers are involved. This ensures that products are practical and will be used in everyday life.
When they’re given the right tools, training, and access, older adults take to technology like fish to water.Dr. Olive Bryanton, member of AGE-WELL’s Older Adult and Caregiver Advisory Committee.
Older adults and their caregivers as thought leaders
Dr. Olive Bryanton of Prince Edward Island is 83 years old and has been an advocate for the rights and needs of older adults since well before she joined that demographic herself. Having completed her PhD at the age of 81, Dr. Bryanton brings her personal and academic perspective to AGE-WELL’s Older Adult and Caregiver Advisory Committee.
“There’s this ageist idea that older people aren’t interested in learning about technology, and that’s just false,” Dr. Bryanton says. “When they’re given the right tools, training, and access, older adults take to technology like fish to water. AGE-WELL is doing a great job at including older adults and caregivers in the development of their products, programs, and services. They’re using the people experiencing these realities as advisors, which is so important.”
In the end, if we fail to take the opportunity today to secure a technologically-accessible present and future for older Canadians, we will have missed a critical lesson of this moment in time. If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic has underlined the need for an organization like AGE-WELL, which is tackling real-world challenges faced by older adults and caregivers, and driving forward Canada’s AgeTech sector.