Challenge accepted: How to support older adults aging in place through a more sustainable long-term care model

- Ottawa, Ontario

Amaya Arcelus

Dr. Amaya Arcelus, Program Director for the Aging in Place Challenge program

Canada is facing an unprecedented shift in its demographics as older adults are expected to represent 25% of our population by 2050. "If given the choice, an overwhelming majority of older adults (over 85%) would prefer to age in place within their own homes and communities." explains Dr. Amaya Arcelus, who is leading the development of a new 7‑year program at the National Research Council of Canada (NRC) focussed on increasing the quality of life of older adults and their personal caregivers.

Currently, older adults represent 17% of Canada's population but account for 47% of total health care costs. Given the growth in our older adult population, Canada's current long‑term care costs are expected to triple from $22 billion in 2020 to $71 billion by 2050. "We recognize that our current model for long‑term care will not be sustainable. We need to strengthen our support for preventive home and community‑based care, while enabling nursing homes to concentrate on older adults with the highest needs."

Through this new Aging in Place Challenge program, Dr. Arcelus and her team will aim to reduce by 20% the number of older adults requiring nursing home care across Canada by 2031. They plan to partner with like‑minded private and public sector, academic and other research organizations in Canada and internationally to develop breakthroughs and innovative technologies that will support older adults and their caregivers to live safe, healthy, and socially connected lives while remaining in their homes and communities of choice.

The program will take a holistic view in terms of meeting the needs of older adults and their caregivers: provide innovative living environments where they can be safe and injury‑free; enable them to effectively manage their cognition, chronic health and activities of daily living; and strengthen community connections through age‑friendly methods of mobility, transportation and social engagement. The program will also inform guidelines and standards that support safety, enhance technical interoperability and inform national policy decisions.

Still in the early stages of development, some examples of potential solutions may include systems to monitor mobility and prevent falls; age‑friendly autonomous vehicles; therapeutic robots; smart packaging to support medication adherence; and novel methods to encourage community pairings. These are just a few of the potential technologies and solutions that Dr. Arcelus and her team of NRC researchers and collaborators are considering during the program's 7‑year term. "A fundamental element of our program is to integrate older adults and caregivers into the project concept and design process from the very beginning." says Dr. Arcelus.

A scientist and previously a cybersecurity expert for the Department of National Defence, Dr. Arcelus' work in technologies to support aging in place began during her PhD in electrical and computer engineering at Carleton University, where she earned the Senate Medal for her research into context‑aware smart home monitoring. She spent 3 years as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Toronto with a cross‑appointment at the University Health Network. Here she developed and led a program on autonomous physiology and activity monitoring to support older adults living with heart failure.

Dr. Arcelus is currently inviting collaborators from the academic, public, not‑for‑profit, and private sectors as well as from Indigenous governments and organizations to express their interest in collaborating with the Aging in Place Challenge program. She is also establishing a panel of experts by experience and invites older adults and caregivers who wish to participate on the panel to submit their interest.

"The NRC is strategically positioned to respond to this challenge in that we can convene collaborators from all sectors to work together toward a common objective that will have a highly positive impact on Canadians. We have a mandate to inform the federal government—which makes us unique in that way." she says.

She adds: "Our goal is to support the wellbeing of older adults and their caregivers. Our view is not to keep older adults confined to their homes—connection to community is very important, and supporting this connection rather than contributing to further isolation is what we're aiming for."

Over the course of the 7‑year program, grant and contribution funding will be available for collaborators working with NRC researchers who offer complementary expertise. The Challenge program is part of a suite of collaborative R&D initiatives bringing together researchers and facilities from across the NRC's 14 research centres, with academic, not‑for‑profit and industrial partners.

Learn how the NRC is leading the way in disruptive R&D technologies to address issues that affect us today, tomorrow, and in the long term.

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