Health technology moves into Metro Vancouver retirement homes

March 16, 2015

October 2014 (Vancouver Sun) – Surrey seniors home boasts lab for on-the-spot research

As the population ages, researchers are increasingly looking at ways to help older people maintain their independence. And what better place to conduct that research than a retirement home?

At the Innovation Centre for Healthy Aging, researchers and scientists have access to a ready pool of subjects. That’s because the Centre is based at Guildford Seniors Village.

“One of the foundations of our model is for it to be collaborative, not only between the researchers and their subjects, but for researchers to be working together and with clinicians, caregivers, and families, and to be embedded in a care environment,” said Rowena Rizzotti, vice-president of operations for Retirement Concepts.

The first of its kind in B.C., the Innovation Centre is a partnership between Simon Fraser University, BCIT and Retirement Concepts, which is one of the largest private providers of seniors’ care in the province. The partnership enables researchers to test and refine leading-edge products and services related to healthy aging.

A part of Innovation Boulevard in spirit if not location (it’s just a few minutes away from the square mile in Surrey City Centre that has been designated “Innovation Boulevard”), the Innovation Centre has been in operation since June of this year. It includes a $750,000 integrated test centre lab in the lower floor of the Village. The lab has a simulated care environment, and is also used to hold focus groups with seniors, families and caregivers.

Currently, 12 projects are underway at the facility, with more to come.

“On any given week, requests are coming in from researchers and scientists who have learned about this lab and the work that we’re doing, and who want to access it, and to be supported through our research and development division,” Rizzotti said.

The kind of projects being proposed or implemented include technology-based initiatives such as constructing and testing “smart” wheelchairs (wheelchairs outfitted with airbags and other safety features) and finding ways to make tablets and other devices easier for older people to use.

“It’s not just about clinical things,” said Prof. Andrew Sixsmith. Sixsmith is the director of the Gerontology Research Centre at SFU and is, along with Rizzotti, the co-lead of the Innovation Boulevard Committee on Independent Living Technologies.

One of his projects is to use technology to help people with cognitive impairment. Cognitive impairment falls short of dementia and might include problems with tasks like managing finances or remembering appointments.

“There are a lot of people who might fall into this category,” he said. “And it may be helpful for them to have better access to new technology to help them manage their everyday lives.”

Still in the planning stages, another project at the Innovation Centre for Healthy Aging seeks to better understand the triggers that lead to aggressive behaviour by residents with dementia towards staff and other residents.

“They (Retirement Concepts) have identified a need, and are looking to understand when aggression occurs so that they can prevent it,” says Prof. Stephen Robinovitch. A Canada Research Chair in the Department of Biomedical Physiology and Kinesiology, and School of Engineering Science at SFU, Robinovitch is a lead investigator in the study.

“If we can identify triggers, it could alter the way staff interacts with residents who may be changing daily in their moods,” he said. “What we bring to the table is the technology, like video capture.”

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