An aging population means that there are challenges on the horizon on how to best meet its needs. AGE-WELL, a Canadian network of researchers, older adults, caregivers, partner organizations and future leaders, is helping to create solutions by accelerating the delivery of technology that will make a difference to Canadians and the world. But how best to shape the aging landscape effectively?

It’s a daunting and critically important task to find an answer. AGE-WELL responded by identifying eight key challenge areas in its newly introduced report, The Future of Technology and Aging Research in Canada. (Click here to read the full text.) It looks down the road at the research agenda in the technology and aging field from 2020 to 2025.

Dr. Alex Mihailidis, a University of Toronto professor who is joint scientific director of AGE-WELL, played a leading role in shaping that vision. What was the main goal in developing these eight challenges? “They will help AGE-WELL to focus its efforts, programming, and investments in areas that have been identified by our stakeholders as important in supporting healthy aging in Canada,” he says.

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In the future, AGE-WELL will use these challenges to define all of its programming and investment strategies. “They will essentially become our strategic areas of focus for our operations,” he explains. “And importantly, they will help us to focus our efforts related to guiding practice and policy.”

With the need for technology steadily increasing along with the average age of the Canadian population, there was a lot to consider in preparing the report. “The main challenge was coming up with a succinct list that still captures the wants and desires of our stakeholders and partners,” says Dr. Mihailidis. “We started with a list of over 200 areas that we had to sort through and determine which were the most important to our stakeholders, and which ones AGE-WELL could have the greatest impact in.”

“The main challenge was coming up with a succinct list that still captures the wants and desires of our stakeholders
and partners,” says Dr. Mihailidis.

The challenge areas were the result of an extensive process carried out across the AGE-WELL Network with its members, partners, older Canadians and caregivers. A review of Canadian provincial and territorial policy priorities was conducted by the AGE-Well National Innovation Hub called Advancing Policies and Practices in Technology and Aging, based in New Brunswick.

As well, the STAR Institute at Simon Fraser University engaged in an examination of environmental and international policy documents. This led to the development of 18 challenge areas. To fine tune the short list, consultations were hosted in Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto and Montreal. Members of AGE-WELL’s International Scientific Advisory Committee also provided their perspectives before the broader AGE-WELL network participated through an online survey that invited feedback from the general public.

Highlights of the 8 challenge areas shaping the future of aging

1. Supportive homes and communities
In Canada, 85 percent of seniors would like to age in the homes and communities that they know.However, only 33 percent would consider installing smart home technology.Aging in place is about being able to live independently in one’s own home and community through appropriate supports and services, including the design of physical spaces and the use of technology within the environment. Technology-based solutions can help seniors to live independently and improve their quality of life, while also supporting caregivers and providing a cost-effective alternative to long-term care.

2. Health care and health service delivery
Older adults and caregivers want access to quality and equitable health care that is proactive in addressing their needs and enhances their ability to live an active and healthy life. However, Canada’s health-care system is complex, and older adults and caregivers often face challenges such as getting to doctor’s appointments, obtaining health records, navigating the system and affording new technologies that improve quality of care. Disruptive technologies offer innovative new approaches.

3. Autonomy and independence Aging is experienced differently across Canada and, while many older adults will retire in good health, 89 percent will live with at least one chronic condition, for which they may require varying levels of assistance. The challenge is for people to maintain their autonomy and independence, even in the face of impairment, disability or illness.

4. Cognitive health and dementia
The number of Canadians living with dementia is expected to reach 937,000 by 2031, a 66 percent increase from today.In the absence of a cure, technology-based solutions promote cognitive health and active lifestyles to help delay the onset of cognitive decline and provide assistance to those already experiencing some level of impairment.

5. Mobility and transportation
Canada has a growing demographic of older travellers who are seeking an inclusive transportation system that makes them feel comfortable, respected and safe. Whether they are travelling across the neighbourhood to get to the local grocery store or across continents for work meetings or vacations, the vast majority of Canadians aged 65 and over use transportation on a weekly basis.

6. Healthy lifestyles and wellness
Only 1 in 5 older Canadians achieves the recommended 150 minutes of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity per week. Also, 1 out of 5 Canadian seniors has experienced emotional distress in the past two years, which they found difficult to cope with on their own. Promoting healthy behaviours enables older adults and caregivers to maintain and improve their physical and mental well-being.

7. Staying connected
An engaged and connected population of older Canadians and caregivers has significant benefits for our economy and our communities. While studies show that participation in community activities positively influences health and socioeconomic outcomes for older adults, approximately 20 percent of seniors in Canada currently experience social isolation.

8. Financial wellness and employment
Older adults are long-standing contributors to the Canadian economy and have an abundance of knowledge and expertise to share with younger generations. Yet, many older Canadians are experiencing financial vulnerability and workplace exclusion as they age. Financial wellness and employment are about improving financial literacy for older adults, providing them with training opportunities that update their skills to meet the needs of a changing workforce and protecting them from financial exploitation.

To read the full report, click here.