Innovative technology for older adults and caregivers

Healthy aging
Matters Beyond Wealth

Learn about the innovative solutions to help older Canadians stay connected to others, stay independent, and in their homes longer

“Technology can make a difference. It can help older people and caregivers to live better lives and healthier lives”
Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director and CEO of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence

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Transcript

Intro Speaker:

Hello, and welcome to Matters Beyond Wealth with your host, Leanne Kaufman, president and CEO of RBC Royal Trust. For most of us, talking about subjects like aging, late life, and estate planning isn’t easy. That’s why we’re going to help get the conversation started on this podcast while benefiting from the insights and expertise of some of the country’s top experts. We want to bring you information today that will help to protect you and your family in the future. Now, here’s your host, Leanne.

Leanne Kaufman:

Did you know that people over age 65 are expected to represent a quarter of Canada’s population by 2050? In fact, even in the next three years, Canada is expected to become what is known as a super aged society where over 20 percent of the population is over age 65. This is going to present Canada with many unique social, fiscal and medical challenges associated with this rapidly aging population. But beyond the challenges, there’s also good news, including many innovative solutions to help older Canadians stay connected to others, stay independent and stay safe in their homes longer.

Hello, I’m Leanne Kaufman and welcome to RBC Wealth Management Canada’s Matters Beyond Wealth. With me today to talk about some of these innovative technologies is Dr. Alex Mihailidis. Alex is the Scientific Director and CEO of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence, which focuses on the development of new technologies and services for older adults. He’s also the Barbara G. Stymiest Research chair in Rehab Technology at the University of Toronto and Toronto Rehab University Health Network. He has been conducting research and publishing in the field of technology to support older adults for the past 17 years. In 2022, he was recognized through the UN Decade of Healthy Ageing as one of the Healthy Ageing 50 leaders transforming the world to be a better place to grow older.

Alex, thank you for making the world a better place, and thanks for being here with me today to talk about how important technology and innovation can be to healthy aging and why all of these matters beyond wealth.

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

Thank you so much, Leanne, for having me. It’s a great pleasure.

Leanne Kaufman:

So why don’t we start with a bit about you, your background, and then about AGE-WELL and the work that’s being done there. Can you tell us about both of those things?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

Sure, absolutely. So I’ve been conducting research in this area, as you said, for a couple of decades now, and my research focuses on the development of new technologies and new technological based solutions to support older people to remain in their own homes and communities. Also as importantly, to support the caregivers and the family members who are trying to provide the best care possible. So this is included in looking at things such as smart home systems, the role of artificial intelligence, the role of wearable sensors, and most recently, more and more the use of robots in the home.

Now, AGE-WELL is a national network that focuses on similar priorities to my own research, but has a much larger mandate. We support the research development, commercialization and what is showing to be actually more important, the development of new policy from coast to coast to coast here in Canada as related to the role that technology can play to support our aging population.

Leanne Kaufman:

So, we’ll dive into some of those things you’ve touched on deeper in a few minutes. But, broadly speaking, what are some of these problems that technology is trying to solve for? Or perhaps what are the opportunities that technology is looking to expand upon in the lives of aging Canadians beyond what you’ve already briefly mentioned?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

So we’re looking at technology that can really support older people and caregivers across a whole variety of domains. As you can imagine, the number one area is in supporting their health and wellness. So technologies that can monitor chronic diseases that older people may be facing, such as diabetes or congestive heart failure. Technologies that can support older adults with cognitive impairments such as dementia to complete activities of daily living by perhaps providing prompts and reminders of things they may have to complete such as taking their medication or completing self-care activities.

Beyond health, we’re also looking at the role that technology can play in supporting socialization to support older people to remain connected to their communities, to their friends, to their healthcare teams. On the caregiver side, really looking at how technologies can support family members to provide the best care possible, not only to their loved ones but to themselves as well. So technology that can help caregivers to return to their own work and to their own jobs while still having peace of mind that the people they’re providing care to are safe and are doing well.

Leanne Kaufman:

Well, let’s go a little deeper on that and maybe you can give us some examples on both the technology for the older adults and for the caregivers. We probably all know about some of the tech things like fall detection wearables or those direct communication systems. But what are some of the things that you’re working on or that maybe are already in market that some of us might not yet be aware of?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

Yeah, no, absolutely. So for example, there’s new technology out there called the Centivizer. What that is a technology that keeps older adults active, whether in their own homes or outside in their communities, by providing virtual settings that they can interact with as they use an exercise bike for example, and providing the feedback that is necessary to them and to their caregivers in terms of how well they’re doing with their physical activity.

There are new technologies that support connectedness among the family units, such as one by a company called family.net. This particular device is tablet based but includes only the features that they discovered through many years of research that involve older adults and caregivers that they feel are necessary and that are the ones that are important to ensure ongoing socialization between the older adult and again, their social circles, their families, their healthcare teams.

And there’s also the more generic technology such as fall detection. So a lot of work happening in the AGE-WELL, not to just detect the fall, but to actually predict before the fall happens. This is really where artificial intelligence is coming to play, where there are several projects that we are supporting across the country right now that are using artificial intelligence to predict changes in an individual’s health and wellness before they actually happen. For example, there are a few projects looking at how do we predict a change in a person’s cognition before it actually happens, so that we can put the right interventions in place as soon as possible.

Leanne Kaufman:

I’m glad you mentioned artificial intelligence because there’s been just so much intrigue and worry and hype about how quickly AI has leapt forward in the last year or so. So that bit about fall detection and having an early warning system is fascinating. Are there other areas where we think the power of AI might be harnessed for some of this work?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

Absolutely. So I think we’re starting to see the use of AI more and more now in technologies for older adults because this allows the technology to learn about the person and to customize itself to that individual’s needs. As I’m told over and over again, whenever I present this work, especially to audiences of older adults, is the heterogeneity of this population. Simply put, when you’ve seen one older adult, you’ve seen one older adult. What we find is a one-fit-all-solution typically does not work, and that’s where artificial intelligence comes into play that you can start with a basic version of that technology and then using artificial intelligence, it will learn about the person’s needs, learn about their capabilities, learn about their disabilities, and then adapt and change the way it provides help in real time.

Leanne Kaufman:

And you mentioned the robots, and that’s fascinating to me. I mean, I sometimes think there’s lots of times I would like to have my own little robot to do things, but what kinds of activities are robots able to do or will they soon be able to do that will help support either older Canadians or their caregivers?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

So currently, right now, the robots that are available are typically being used for tasks such as providing reminders and prompting to older people with cognitive impairments. They’re being used to help with socialization, whether it’s carrying on conversations between the robot and the person themselves or connecting the older adult to their wider social community. We’re also starting to see robots that are being used for remote health monitoring that are able to do simple things such as take the blood pressure of someone or the heart rate and then transmit this information to the healthcare team.

The use of robots to do things such as to transfer people on and off a toilet or to carry large objects is still a long way away in my opinion. But the use of these robots for these more social contacts, or as we call it social robotic, currently exists and there are several that are on the marketplace that are readily available and there’ll be more, I think in the coming years.

Leanne Kaufman:

So not really like The Jetsons, Rosey the Robot who could cook your meals for you as well? We’re not going to see that anytime soon, I’m guessing from what you’re saying?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

Not yet, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility. People are working on these things.

Leanne Kaufman:

And where do people go to learn about what’s already on the market? I mean, other than Google, are there any centralized resources you can point people to that might help them understand what innovations might be already on the market?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

Yeah, that’s a great question and something that often comes up in discussion. Unfortunately, there’s not a central repository of this. I would say the best place right now is the AGE-WELL website to learn about the various projects and products and companies that AGE-WELL has been supporting and other linkages through there. But there is more and more talk about the need for a central repository and a central entity so to speak, or organization that can bring together all the great research that’s happening across the country in this area.

Leanne Kaufman:

And where do you look for inspiration, you and your colleagues at the AGE-WELL lab? Do you look at other countries? Do you look at other sectors or how do you keep your innovative juices flowing?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

I would say it’s all of the above. We want to see what’s happening around the world, but most importantly, we look to the older adults and caregivers themselves. We have a very active group of over 5,000 older Dawson caregivers across the country that are involved in AGE-WELL. We have an advisory group of older Dawson caregivers that constantly are providing input. So our inspiration always comes from this, the need itself, and that is the stakeholders that we’re working with.

Leanne Kaufman:

Well, I think Alex, that there’s a lot of people that are going to have a lot of interest and I hope a lot of visits to the AGE-WELL lab to learn more. But if you hope listeners just remember one thing from the conversation we’ve had today, what would that one thing be?

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

I think it’s the fact that technology can make a difference. It can help older people and caregivers to live better lives and healthier lives. Again, whether that person is still living in their home of 50 years or in a retirement home or a nursing home, technology can play a role. We’ve seen this during COVID, we saw technology start to play a really significant role in the support of older people, and really in the support of all of our health, and we don’t want to lose that. While COVID was an awful thing, momentum was built up that we do not want to lose. And the message I want to give here is that there are some technologies available now, but we’re going to start to see a lot more, and these are really going to make a big difference in all of our lives.

Leanne Kaufman:

That’s exciting to hear, and I really am genuinely grateful for the work that you and your team and others like you are doing around the world. Thank you so much, Alex, for joining me today to talk about the ways that we can harness this new technology and innovation so that we can all age with independence and control and why this matters beyond well.

Dr. Alex Mihailidis:

Thank you so much, Leanne.

Leanne Kaufman:

You can find out more about Dr. Alex Mihailidis on LinkedIn, or as he mentioned, visit the AGE-WELL website. If you enjoyed this episode and you’d like to help support the podcast, please share it with others, post about it on social media, or leave a rating and review. Until next time, I’m Leanne Kaufman. Thank you for joining us.

Outro speaker:

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