Tuesday, September 29, 2020

AGE-WELL’S Dr. Alex Mihailidis Looks At How Technology Can Revolutionize The Way We Age

When I think about the technologies revolutionizing our world, it’s amazing to see how they keep evolving. We’ve come a long, long way from dial-up internet and flip phones (though I suspect more than a few of us would confess a nostalgia for Pong, the first video game), and you’d be right to think that “we ain’t seen nothing yet.”

Technology continues to advance in leaps and bounds, changing every aspect of our lives. One of the most exciting frontiers? Aging. As a researcher in artificial intelligence and a scientific director for Canada’s AGE-WELL technology and aging network, I see first hand that when it comes to technology designed to enhance our lives as we (and those we care about) age, things are just starting to get interesting.

My parents, both in their 80s, can attest to that. They still live in the original family home and they plan to remain there for as long as possible. That’s why they put up with their techie-son installing a smart thermostat that I monitor and adjust remotely, and discreetly placed cameras that help me know where and when they need assistance.

At AGE-WELL, we’re taking these and other technologies to a much higher level. The products and services under development in the AGE-WELL network will empower people to remain healthy, active, safe and independent as they age.

With a mandate to create real-world solutions that will make a meaningful impact on the lives of older Canadians and caregivers, AGE-WELL is a hotbed of technological innovation. Things people could have only dreamed about a decade ago will be available – many of them at your local store – in the coming months and years.

Imagine a smart home that uses small, affordable sensors and computer vision to feed a steady stream of data into a system that helps detect or manage health conditions. In the not-so-distant future, your favourite armchair could take your heart rate and other vital statistics, while your fridge tracks what you eat and your bed monitors the quality of your sleep.  Researchers are working on a prototype for a virtual gym to guide you through exercises specific to your needs.

If you have issues with memory, a virtual assistant can remind you where you put your keys and your glasses, or to take your medication. Or, a social robot can guide those with dementia through everyday tasks, such as getting dressed and making a cup of tea.

This is just a small sampling of the many groundbreaking projects underway. In upcoming issues, we will shine a light on our network’s innovative Canadian technology and services. For all of our projects, we actively seek input and advice from older adults and family caregivers, and we invite you to join the AGE-WELL community to add your voice. We may not be able to turn back time, but we can certainly move forward with greater confidence and optimism, our sense of purpose unabated.

Dr. Alex Mihailidis is scientific co-director at AGE-WELL, a federally funded Network of Centres of Excellence that is harnessing the power of new technologies to benefit older adults and caregivers. The pan-Canadian network brings together researchers, industry, non-profits, government, care providers and end-users to develop solutions for healthy aging. He is also a professor at the University of Toronto and holder of the Barbara G. Stymiest Chair in Rehabilitation Technology Research at the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute ‒ University Health Network. 

Originally published in Issue 01 of YouAreUNLTD Magazine.

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