Photo: Shutterstock.

There’s no downloadable crystal ball app to predict what will happen – or not happen – in the lives of older Canadians in 2019. However, YouAreUNLTD checked in with the experts to suss out the hot topics trending for the year ahead. Here’s what they predicted:

Artificial intelligence
AI, as it’s commonly known, is the use of computer systems that are able to perform tasks which would normally involve human intelligence, such as decision-making, speech recognition and visual perception. “Artificial intelligence is advancing – and will continue to advance – in leaps and bounds and change every aspect of our lives,” says Dr. Alex Mihailidis, who is the scientific co-director at AGE-WELL, a federally funded Network of Centres of Excellence. “But we do need to be careful,” cautions Dr. Mihailidis, “of innovations which purport to be based on artificial intelligence but really aren’t.”

Dr. Alex Mihailidis

As YouAreUNLTD previously reported, “About 86 percent of healthcare providers, life science companies and tech-focused healthcare companies currently have some form of involvement with AI, which has multiple applications – from improving drug discovery, to diagnosing eye diseases, to early detection of diseases such as Alzheimer’s.”  According to Kindred Healthcare, 80 percent of healthcare industry professionals believe that “Artificial Intelligence (AI) will be a game changer in 2019.”

Aging in place
Aging in place will continue to be one of the primary topics in 2019,” says Dr. Mihailidis of AGE-WELL. A recent stat claims that 83 per cent of older adults would prefer to age in place – to continue living at home and pay for home care as needed, rather than reside at an assisted-living facility or with family members. According to a 2017 Bayshore HealthCare report, aging at home lowers the risk of catching contagious illnesses such as cold and flu bugs that spread quickly in assisted living facilities where there are a large number of residents.

Stem cell research
Stem Cell Network of Canada, part of the federally-funded Networks of Centres of Excellence program, continues its support of research that focuses on treatments and therapies for illnesses such as diabetes, retinal degeneration, liver failure and blood cancers. Stem cell research will continue to be a priority outside Canada, too. Dr. Paul Knoepfler, a U.S.-based biomedical scientist and author of Stem Cells: An Insider’s Guide, says there are high hopes of using clinical stem cell research results to treat Parkinson’s Disease.

Photo: Shutterstock.

Voice technology for older adults
Voice technology is in the top four tech trends that will shape our lives this year. Voice-activated systems once used exclusively for people with visual and motor difficulties are increasingly being used to improve the lives of older adults, helping them to communicate with caregivers and family. Innovators will continue to develop and explore the use of voice technology to monitor an individual’s sleeping habits and hydration levels, and its use as a medication reminder (as with Amazon Echo). In December 2018, Amazon announced it was partnering with Omron Healthcare to connect its voice technology to the company’s blood pressure devices.

(Not) so nice work, if you can get it
In 2017, 53 percent of Canadian men and 38 of Canadian women aged 65 or older were working for a variety of reasons, including insufficient savings in retirement plans. According to the career web site The Job Network, a hot topic for 2019 facing older workers in the workplace, especially Baby Boomers, are the challenges posed by the ever-growing job arrangements that favour freelance, part-time and contract employment which don’t include health or dental benefits. Without full-time employment status, says Eric Timer of The Job Network: “Workers are going to have to get creative and seek out alternative means for [insurance] coverage. Another thing missing from most forms of contract employment are retirement benefits, which will impact how workers prepare and save for retirement in the future.”

Nursing shortage
According to a report released last year by the Canadian Institute for Health Information, “Canada’s nursing workforce experienced the slowest growth in a decade.” SaidAndrea Porter, manager of Health Workforce Information at CIHI: “Declining numbers of new nursing graduates, growing numbers leaving the profession late in their careers and an increase in part-time and casual positions are the trends we see impacting the nursing landscape in Canada today.” The Canadian Nurses Association predicts a shortage of 60,000 full-time registered nurses in 2022 if no policy interventions are implemented.  Industry watchers fear this will impact health delivery for all Canadians, especially older adults with growing healthcare needs.

Technology, technology, technology
The demand for technological innovations will continue in 2019. Wearable technology that relays blood pressure readings and temperature changes to healthcare providers, technology geared to care-givers, and technology to stop older adults from falling and injuring themselves are prime examples of the growing need for innovation in Canada.

How medical cannabis’ affect on the body is an ongoing area of research. Photo: Shutterstock.

Cannabis is still a smoking topic
Availability of – and access to – cannabis is still much-discussed and will continue to be so throughout 2019. Many older Canadians still have questions about medical cannabis, for instance. As The National Post recently predicted, “2019 will pack a cannabis-infused buzz” as edible marijuana products are being introduced.

Managing debt
In the October 2018 edition of its National Consumer Credit Trends Report, Equifax reported another decline in the percentage of people falling behind on their debts – with the exception of seniors. According to the report, the overall delinquency rate for non-mortgage debt fell 3.1 percent in the second quarter – except for Canadians aged 65 and older, for whom the delinquency rate jumped 4 percent. A 2018 national survey by the Financial Planning Standards Council and Credit Canada reported that “25 per cent of seniors fear they will run out of money before they die and the same percentage worry they won’t be able to pay for long-term care.”

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Doug O'Neill
O’Neill, formerly Executive Editor of Canadian Living, writes on all manner of topics for a variety of Canadian publications – but has a preference for storytelling that gets to the heart of things. “Writing about journeys has always fascinated me,'” says contributor Doug O’Neill, “whether I’m scribbling about my own travels around the world or about other people’s inspiring journeys as they navigate from one life stage to another.”