Looking back on the 2022 AGE-WELL Annual Conference

From October 18 to 20, Regina, Saskatchewan played host to the approximately 300 researchers, trainees, older adults, caregivers, and partners in industry, government and community who attended the AGE-WELL 2022 Annual Conference.

The theme of this year’s conference was Innovating for a Better Future and prioritized discussion of current issues and innovations in the field of technology and aging. This event brought the AGE-WELL network together in-person for the first time since the last annual conference, which took place in Moncton, New Brunswick in 2019.

The newest and best ideas in AgeTech

A conference-goer samples one of the demos at the Drinks and Demos Networking Reception.

The conference kicked off on the evening of October 18 with an AGE-WELL favourite: The ever-popular Drinks and Demos Networking Reception, which showcased over 40 demos and exhibits featuring a wide array of the newest and best ideas in AgeTech – from smart-home systems and virtual therapies to exergames and social robots.

“What you’re seeing tonight is key to what AGE-WELL is all about,” said Dr. Josephine McMurray, Associate Scientific Director of AGE-WELL, of the demos and exhibits on display that evening. “We’re proud to support an ever-increasing number of innovators.”

After a popular vote, the ‘People’s Choice: Best Demo’ award went to an app that long-term care staff can use to assess pain in people with severe dementia who often cannot speak up when they are in pain. The winning presenters were: Vivian Tran and Dr. Thomas Hadjistavropoulos (University of Regina) and Dr. Eleni Stroulia (University of Alberta).

On the afternoon of October 19, conference attendees got to watch as five Canadian startups pitched their products in the exciting AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge, a competition that recognizes top startups and supports entrepreneurship in Canada’s AgeTech sector.

Bronwyn Bridges, Co-Founder and CEO of PragmaClin, upon winning first prize at the AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge.

First prize went to PragmaClin, which has created a digital assessment tool for monitoring Parkinson’s disease symptoms. The idea came when Bronwyn Bridges, Co-Founder and CEO of PragmaClin, was a master’s student working with Gord Genge who lives with Parkinson’s. “He came to me with a brilliant idea to help others,” she said of her first meeting with him, “and that progressed into a full software, which we’ve developed called PRIMS.”

The PRIMS system monitors motor and non-motor symptoms of Parkinson’s. Bridges said the $20,000 cash prize from winning the AGE-WELL National Impact Challenge will go towards the next phase of validation trials, patent filing, team expansion, and more. The hope is to fully commercialize and enter the market by 2024.

The runner-up prize of $5,000 in cash when to Singular Hearing, which uses artificial intelligence to create new kinds of hearing assistant that help people stay connected. Care2Talk Technologies received the People’s Choice Award for its accessible and intuitive communication and health platform designed to revolutionize the way seniors connect with their healthcare providers and loved ones. (Read the full story here.)

AGE-WELL 2022 also included the launch of a unique interactive tool that offers proactive strategies to help people with mild dementia stay safe while maintaining their freedom to go where they like. (Read the full story here.)

Recognizing two AGE-WELL greats

The first full day of the conference began with the recognition of two individuals who hold a special place in the hearts of all AGE-WELL network members: Roger Marple and Karen Kobayashi.

Roger received the AGE-WELL Honorary Fellow Award, which is given in recognition of members who have made long-term and substantial contributions to research and/or innovation in the AgeTech sector, as well as significant contributions to AGE-WELL. Roger was a passionate advocate for people living with dementia. He served on AGE-WELL’s Older Adult and Caregiver Advisory Committee as member-at-large, Alberta, collaborated on many AGE-WELL research projects and supported future leaders in AgeTech.

Bob Marple (right) accepts the AGE-WELL Honorary Fellow Award on behalf of his brother, Roger Marple, from Dr. Alex Mihailidis (left).

The award was accepted on Roger’s behalf by his brother Bob Marple. To our great sadness, Roger passed away on Oct. 24. (Read the In Memoriam here.)

Karen Kobayashi, a professor at the University of Victoria and long-time leader and investigator with AGE-WELL, passed away in May 2022. (Read the In Memoriam here.) An eminent gerontologist, Karen showed tireless enthusiasm in supporting the next generation of researchers through AGE-WELL. In recognition of her work, her humanity and her dedication to the cause of AgeTech, Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director and CEO of AGE-WELL, announced the creation of the Karen Kobayashi Memorial Award in Technology and Aging at the conference, which Dr. Mihailidis hopes will “inspire future generations to follow Karen’s lead.”

A rich variety of programming

Before the official conference kick-off, the first cohort of the new EPIC-AT Health Research Training Platform came together for a keynote presentation, interactive workshops and presentations. EPIC-AT is one of three pillars that is critical to the future of AGE-WELL and addresses a pressing need: developing digital health solutions for older adults with complex health needs

“There is a digital divide between technology “haves” and “have-nots,” said Dr. Jennifer Campos, Associate Scientific Director of AGE-WELL. “AGE-WELL is advocating for equitable access to technology for older adults. AgeTech not only has enormous potential to improve quality of life, there’s also a hard-headed economic argument for it. The demand for these kinds of products and services is exploding and Canada is well positioned to benefit with the creation of good jobs that will support economic growth. This is why we are training the next generation of innovators and leaders working across sectors.”

Sarah Thomas delivers her keynote speech.

A stirring keynote speech from Sarah Thomas, CEO of Delight by Design and Co-Founder of AgeTech News, on “Designing for the Evolving AgeTech Consumer” helped set the tone for the first full day of conference programming.

Innovation talks, poster presentations and Lunch ‘n’ Learn interactive workshops highlighting the latest research and innovation from across AGE-WELL spanned across both full conference days. This year’s featured Lunch ‘n’ Learns were:

  1. “Challenging the tenets of autonomy and independence: Implications for AgeTech” by Lili Liu, Andrew Sixsmith, Christine Daum, Noelannah Neubauer, Antonio Miguel Cruz, Adriana Rios Rincon, and Hector Perez
  2. “‘Less ageist and more responsible’: Igniting culture change in the design, development, and use of ethical AgeTech” by Jennifer Boger, Charlene H. Chu, Mei Fang, Giovanni Rubeis, and Andrew Sixsmith
  3. “Wâhkôhtowin – Doing Research in a Good Way with Indigenous communities” by Kēhtē-ayak (Elder/Old Heart) Ethel Dubois, Kēhtē-ayak Beverly Cardinal, Denise Mackenzie, Veronica Favel, Victor Starr, Denise McKay, Teena Redwood, Reah Starr, John B. Acharibasam, Mikayla Hagel, and Cari McIlduff

AGE-WELL Challenge Area Leads also shared their views on current challenges in the development of technology-based solutions for older adults and caregivers – and future directions in the growing AgeTech sector.

The award for best poster was given to Stephanie Hatzifilalithis (McMaster University) for “Ageism and Digital Health Infrastructure” and Hui Jun Chew (University of Northern British Columbia) for “Technology Use During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Experiences of Long-Term Care Home Staff in Northern British Columbia.”

The closing event was a Network Town Hall, which brought together Bridgette Murphy, Managing Director and COO of AGE-WELL, and Drs. Mihailidis, Campos, and McMurray to look ahead and discuss priorities for the future in a live forum with attendees.

AGE-WELL thanks the generous sponsors of AGE-WELL 2022: The Ontario Brain Institute and Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (Gold Sponsors); Bereskin & Parr and MEDTEQ+ (Silver Sponsors); Best Buy Health (Student Award Sponsor); and CARF Canada (Networking Lunch Sponsor).