How to leverage technology to help older adults, improving accessibility for seniors (whether they’re remote, or can’t afford programs and services) and loneliness and social isolation are just a few of the challenges facing today’s older adults and their caregivers, says Pat Spadafora, Director of the Centre for Elder Research at Sheridan College. Finding solutions to these problems is complex, but it’s one of the reasons that organizations like the Sheridan Elder Research Centre exist.
Read more about how this elder research centre is improving the lives of older adults in Canada.
Right now, the team at Sheridan is considering ways to balance high tech and high touch – technology like virtual reality and robotics that will help seniors but won’t replace human touch and interaction.
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“We think it’s important to use technology when appropriate if it adds to a senior’s quality of life,” Spadafora says. “Technology can be supportive, but it doesn’t mean no human contact either.”
Other research projects include studying ways to better support immigrants who are over 65 and at greater risk of social isolation and loneliness — a problem facing most seniors, but one that is exacerbated for this group. The three-year study will result in tools to support staff in agencies and faith communities to help them better detect and offer support to these older adults.
“The hallmark of our work is our strong multidisciplinary and practical approach to research,” Spadafora explains. “Sheridan has a unique program mix that we draw on – from technology to creative and performing arts to business.”
This month, the team is busy with the launch of a new national study that is looking at the needs of entrepreneurs who are 50 and older. “There is evidence that more people are starting a business for the first time, or starting a new business after the age of 50,” Spadafora says. “Here it’s a largely untapped cohort that hasn’t been studied, but it’s a huge area to explore,” she says. “What are the implications for the economy and our society? It’s an interesting project that is generating a lot of traction.”
For elder research to be meaningful, it’s critical that older adults participate in studies and research projects, like this one, that are being done at elder research centres across the country. This participation allows researchers to better understand the needs and interests of aging adults and helps stakeholders to develop tools, programs, products and services that will better meet their needs.
Fourteen years ago, the Sheridan Elder Research Centre was one of the few research centres with a program dedicated to elder research and, while that has changed as interest in elder research has grown, Spadafora says that with a small team, getting the word out about elder research and programs is sometimes challenging.
Despite the challenge, her team’s dedication to outreach is impressive. The centre’s programming goes beyond Sheridan College and involves businesses in the community, caregivers, seniors and beyond. Anyone can get involved in Aging Matters – the Centre’s informal drop in that offers participants a chance to talk about challenges and opportunities facing older adults in the local community. For the past nine years, on the second Tuesday of the month, an eclectic group of businesses, community agencies, faculty, students and older adults have been meeting to share ideas and stories.
In addition to events geared towards businesses, the Sheridan Elder Research Centre also hosts one educational outreach event each term for the general public. With different themes and topics, the goal is to offer important information to caregivers, seniors and other stakeholders. Past events have been about emergency preparedness for older adults, health promotion, technology or the need for companionship.
“We’re not interested in research that doesn’t make a difference in the lives of people,” Spadafora says. “Publishing the research is great, and we do that, but it needs to go beyond publication to something that is practical and useful like tool kits for caregivers, or technological innovations that will improve lives.”
With this lab to life focus at the forefront of all their research, the team at Sheridan has honed their attention on four major areas: Aging in a Foreign Land; Business; Creative and Performing Arts and Technology. “We never want to say no to opportunities, we do one-off projects, but most of the research we do fits into our broader mandate,” Spadafora explains. “We can’t be all things to all people.”
You can also learn more about the elder research happening at Sheridan by following them on Facebook or Twitter or get involved in their programs. Have your say and make a difference in elder research in Canada!
Have you participated in elder research before? How did it make a difference in your life? We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories in the comments below.