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The goal of helping older adults stay healthy, safe and independent is central to AGE-WELL.ISTOCK.COM

Judy Tinning, 75, once a self-described “technological tortoise,” finds that as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic she uses her computer or smartphone “for absolutely everything now.” She takes part in online courses, concerts, fitness classes, medical appointments and grocery shopping, as well as socializing with friends and staying in touch with her four grandchildren via Zoom or FaceTime.

Tinning’s husband Phyl, 79, has Parkinson’s and the two participate in a 20-minute online dance therapy class each morning. She hopes technology will help the couple remain independently in their home for as long as possible. “I would welcome anything that would help us live to our greatest potential and keep us safe.”

That’s what AgeTech is all about – delivering technology-based solutions that benefit older adults and caregivers. Canada’s AgeTech sector is quickly coming of age, spurred in part by needs and challenges highlighted during the pandemic.

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Researchers at the SAM³ “smart apartment” test heat-sensing technology that can show the complexity of meals. SAM³ is a joint initiative of AGE-WELL, Bruyère Research Institute and Carleton UniversityJOHN HRYNIUK

“COVID has illuminated how technology can help to connect people, reduce isolation and facilitate virtual care,” says Dr. Alex Mihailidis, scientific director and CEO of AGE-WELL, Canada’s technology and aging network. “Whatever the world looks like post-pandemic, it’s safe to predict that technology will play a much greater role in the lives of older adults and their caregivers. There’s an urgency in the air.”

For the past six years, AGE-WELL has served as a catalyst for technological innovation that empowers older adults to live healthy, independent and engaged lives, while driving forward Canada’s AgeTech sector. Today, AGE-WELL brings together more than 250 researchers from 45 Canadian universities and research institutes, 760 trainees and over 400 industry, government and community partners. Almost 5,000 older adults and caregivers are involved. AGE-WELL supports over 50 Canadian startups.

This has resulted in more than 100 technology-based products that are in development or already on the market, generating jobs and creating wealth that is critical to Canada’s economic recovery. Communications platforms, smart-home systems, wearables and remote therapies – these are just some of the innovations pouring out of AGE-WELL, a federally funded Network of Centres of Excellence, and making a difference in people’s lives. These innovations have the added benefit of easing pressure on our health system.

Whatever the world looks like post-pandemic, it’s safe to predict that technology will play a much greater role in the lives of older adults and their caregivers. There’s an urgency in the air.

Dr. Alex Mihailidis
Scientific Director and CEO of AGE-WELL

“What AGE-WELL is doing is phenomenal,” says Noureddin Chahrour, founder and president of Adrenalease Inc., an AGE-WELL-supported startup in Toronto that manufactures special apparel to help correct posture and movement patterns, allowing people to maintain comfortable, active lifestyles.

Chahrour is grateful for the support that AGE-WELL has provided to his company, from introducing him to potential investors to helping Adrenalease tap into new markets. “They’ve been there for us every step of the way.”

To succeed in its mission, AGE-WELL is fuelled by strong partnerships. These include major companies like Best Buy Canada, which is well-positioned to make innovative AgeTech solutions available to older adults and caregivers, says Sara Aghvami, director of Best Buy Health.

“AGE-WELL has created a platform for industry and researchers to bring their core competencies together and create technology and services destined to enrich the lives of older adults,” says Aghvami, a member of AGE-WELL’s Industry Advisory Group on the Future of Aging in Place.

And older adults are receptive to technology. A poll conducted in July 2020 by Environics Research for AGE-WELL found that half of Canadians aged 65+ are willing to pay out of pocket for technology that helps manage health and wellness, while almost 7 in 10 (66%) would pay for technology that allows them to stay at home as they age.

When it comes to the increasing use of many technologies by seniors, it’s critical to ensure that products are user-friendly and practical, Dr. Mihailidis says. Access to broadband, which is often a challenge in rural and Indigenous communities, should be a basic right. “We need to remember that some people are still losing out and there is a digital divide between the technology haves and have-nots.”

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Dr. Victor Fernandez (right), CEO of AGE-WELL-supported Virtual Gym, demonstrates his startup’s fitness platform with Stuart Embleton.SUPPLIED

The pandemic has also underlined the need for technology-based solutions to help support older adults and staff in long-term care. No technology can supplant the human touch, but it can ease the burden on staff, making them better able to focus on their most important person-to-person duties. Technology can also improve safety for all. Take, for example, a device developed by Able Innovations, an AGE-WELL-supported startup, that allows a single caregiver to transfer a person to and from bed without contact and without risking injury to either.

“Technology will be central to necessary changes across all care settings for older adults,” says Dr. Mihailidis, who is leading the development on behalf of the Canadian Standards Association (CSA Group) of a new national standard for safe operating practices as well as infection prevention and control in long-term care homes.

“AGE-WELL is propelling forward Canada’s burgeoning AgeTech sector to ensure that technologies meet the needs and desires of older adults and caregivers, and bring social and economic benefits for Canadians,” says Dr. Mihailidis.

The strength of that sector will be on display at AgeTech Innovation Week, taking place October 4 to 8, 2021. Hosted by AGE-WELL, the free virtual event is for anyone with an interest in technology and aging.

Advertising feature produced by Randall Anthony Communications with AGE-WELL. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.