By David Stoller
It is no secret that the world’s population is getting older. According to Statistics Canada, seniors are projected to outnumber children by 2017 – a never before reached milestone for Canada. As the population ages, governments are struggling to balance the needs of the current generation of seniors, in addition to the demands of the up-and-coming senior’s generation and the impact of rising health care costs. According to the Conference Board of Canada, by 2026 an estimated 2.4 million Canadians aged 65 years and older will need continuing care – a 71 per cent increase since 2011.
As older adults age, it is understandable that they will want to maintain their ability to live independently, despite having healthcare conditions that need to be monitored by family members and clinicians. This situation creates an opportunity for innovative solutions that provide older adults with the ability to maintain their independence while remaining connected to their healthcare providers and caregivers.
The Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation
Enter the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI). Established in 2015 CABHI is the result of the largest investment in aging and brain health in Canadian history, with a total investment of approximately $123.5 million (CAD) from key funding groups, including: The Government of Canada’s Public Health Agency of Canada; the Government of Ontario’s Ministry of Research, Innovation and Science; the Baycrest Foundation; and other health system partners.
CABHI represents a unique collaboration of more than forty leading industry, academic, public sector and not-for-profit partners who are focused on bringing innovative products and solutions to the senior’s healthcare space.
CABHI’s objective is to ease the burden of an aging population by supporting the development of innovations that will allow older adults to age more comfortably in the setting of their choice. In addition, these new innovations are also meant to support the efforts of healthcare workers and family members who often encounter the challenges of caring for older adults suffering from cognitive decline.
The Spark Program
Healthcare workers, particularly those who operate at the point-of-care, are often well-suited to contribute to the innovation process because they are the ones who witness many aging related challenges every day. Point-of-care practitioners bear witness to the loss of independence that can accompany cognitive decline as older adults age, which is reflected through an individual’s inability to perform basic daily tasks, the development of responsive behaviours that make people more difficult to care for, or the development of social isolation.
CABHI recognizes that the exposure point-of-care workers have to aging and brain health issues enables them to develop some of the most impactful health care innovations that address leading challenges for today’s aging adults, and the caregivers who support them. As a result, CABHI introduced the Spark Program in 2016, which offers up to $50,000 (CAD) in per project funding to support the development of early-stage innovations with the potential to drive forward solutions in the field of aging and brain health. The innovations supported through the Spark Program have been conceptualized by point-of-care staff and/or service delivery staff involved with health care delivery for older adults – precisely those individuals who have great ideas but need help moving them from the idea stage into working prototypes for testing and validation.
September 2016 marked the first iteration of Spark, and CABHI will be accepting applications for the next Spark Program from September 14 – 28, 2017.
Below are some of the innovations currently being funded thanks to Spark funding by CABHI.
Dementia Talk App
With Canada’s aging population and increasing number of dementia cases, caregivers are in need of practical and effective solutions to help guide them in managing care. Many caregivers encounter difficulties with respect to tracking and communicating the challenges they face to care providers and /or their family doctor, contributing further to the sense of loneliness that is often associated with caregiving. Led by Einat Danieli, and hosted through the Sinai Health System in Toronto, Dementia Talk App is an award-winning smartphone application designed to empower dementia caregivers in tracking and managing challenging behaviours and in enhancing their communication with other care providers in the circle of care. Thanks to Spark funding, this project will support the development of the technology through the addition of a new suite of features and format compatibilities, and eventually, involve beta testing of the application in a clinical setting.
Virtual Reality Training Program: A home-based, innovative solution for improving cognitive and physical function
In an effort to improve the experience of aging at home, an innovative home-based virtual reality (VR) exercise program has been developed and is now being supported by Spark funding from CABHI. Led by Dr. Hillel Finestone, and hosted at the Bruyère Continuing Care facility in Ottawa, this VR training uses computer software to track the user’s movements, allowing them to interact with a game or activity presented on a TV screen. Activities will focus on balance, arm and leg exercises, gentle aerobic conditioning, and cognition. For example, many of the physical games have cognitive and perceptual components (e.g. attention, hand-eye coordination, reaction time). VR is an enjoyable and interactive experience, and it may encourage individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment to exercise more consistently and at a higher intensity. This project will test the feasibility of the VR program and assess its potential for maintaining and improving the physical and cognitive function of users.
Avoiding Hospitalizations for Long-Term Care Residents: the PREVIEW-ED© eTool
Care Aides and Personal Support Workers comprise more than 70 percent of the staffing in long-term care (LTC) homes and are ideally positioned to notice subtle nuances in the health status of a resident. Catherine Kohm and the Fraser Health Authority in Surrey, BC, have introduced PREVIEW-ED© – a tool that helps staff in LTC detect early health decline among residents related to four conditions. These conditions include: pneumonia, urinary tract infections, dehydration and congestive heart failure. This innovative solution measures the signs, symptoms, and severity of nine indicators using a simple scale to score each indicator, generating an aggregate score to quantify changes that have occurred. The Spark funding from CABHI is supporting the design, development and beta testing of an electronic version of the PREVIEW-ED© tool.
Apply for funding!
The Spark Program will be accepting applications beginning on September 14, 2017 and all point-of-care staff and/or service delivery staff are invited to submit their innovative ideas for consideration to this program before the window for applications closes on September 28. Special consideration will be given to those solutions that offer innovations aligned with CABHI’s targeted challenges sets:
- Aging in Place: solutions that enable older adults with dementia to maximize their choice, independence, and quality of life to enable aging in the most appropriate setting
- Caregiver Support: solutions that support caregivers (formal and informal) in providing care to older adults with dementia
- Care Coordination and Navigation: solutions that help older adults, caregivers and healthcare providers coordinate care and transitions for older adults with dementia
- Cognitive Health: solutions focus on health promotion, prevention, early diagnostics, and slow progression of cognitive impairment for aging adults
David Stoller is the Sr. Marketing Specialist at the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation.