AGE-WELL and Canadian Frailty Network lead new healthy aging research collaboration

Judy Tinning, 77, and her husband, Phyl, 80, have every intention of staying in their home – which is why they are keen for greater investments in healthy aging research and innovation.

Judy Tinning

“My husband and I both like to be in charge, and our sense of independence is really, really important to us,” says Judy Tinning, whose husband was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. “I think we live better on our terms with the neighbourhood sounds of life around us.”

They’re not alone. 92% of Canadians reported through Nanos Research in 2021 that they support government investments in programs that enable healthy aging.

To address this need, AGE-WELL and the Canadian Frailty Network (CFN) have created Healthy Aging Canada (HAC), a new research collaboration. The initiative leverages the expertise and infrastructure of the respective national networks to lead evidence-based social, health care, and technology research that will improve the healthy aging experience of older Canadians and their care partners.

Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director and CEO, AGE-WELL

“This special partnership provides the essential research foundation to expand Canada’s aging research ecosystem that will transform healthy aging for Canadians and their care partners across the life course,” says Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director and CEO, AGE-WELL. “Healthy Aging Canada is an incredible opportunity to advance research that extends people’s active and productive years by targeting the right innovations. This will prompt a ripple effect of healthier aging and lower healthcare and societal costs.”

Healthy Aging Canada combines AGE-WELL’s focus on developing and validating technology-based solutions for daily living and caregiving across settings with CFN’s focus on clinical, practice, and behaviour change research across the community, long-term care, palliative care, and end-of-life care settings.

Research is a “crucial piece” of a successful innovation pipeline, explains Dr. Mihailidis. Healthy Aging Canada is designed to ensure that cutting-edge research continues to fill the pipeline, so that it does not dry up.

The Healthy Aging Canada research collaboration responds to the urgent need to modernize Canada’s approach to aging as the country is poised to be considered “super-aged” by 2035, with one in four Canadians older than 65.

Dr. John Muscedere, Scientific Director and CEO, CFN

“The pandemic only highlighted the needs and challenges of older Canadians,” says Dr. John Muscedere, Scientific Director and CEO, CFN. “It took a major stressor to underscore that our current approach is not working, and we must emphasize healthy aging. To do that, we need a combination of technological, social, and healthcare innovation. Through our partnership with AGE-WELL to lead Healthy Aging Canada, we can address all three aspects to change healthy aging across the spectrum from people who are aging well to people who have multiple co-morbidities and functional limitations.”

For Judy and Phyl Tinning, the pandemic dramatically accelerated their adoption of technology to access support and programming and stay socially connected.

“COVID made us think about how we can stay connected with people and make our life a little simpler using technology,” shares Judy Tinning, a retired high school teacher. “The educational webinars, Zoom classes, ability to see my grandchildren in Kelowna through video chat, and ordering groceries online to have them delivered have been huge for us and made living at home independently so much simpler.”

A natural collaboration between leaders in aging

AGE-WELL and CFN each lead national research networks with a mission to support healthy aging for older adults and care partners. AGE-WELL brings researchers, older adults, care partners, partner organizations and future leaders together to accelerate the delivery of technology-based solutions that make a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians. Meanwhile, CFN coordinates a rich research network of clinicians and researchers, universities and teaching hospitals, industry and community partners, and government agencies that have improved the lives of vulnerable seniors, including approaches to prevent frailty and promote healthy aging.

“For the past decade, our organizations have been working to develop solutions and improve the quality of life for older Canadians. This new collaboration is not a merger; it is a turn-key solution that leverages the strengths and assets of our two high-performing networks. As a result, Healthy Aging Canada will hit the ground running to lead research in healthy aging innovation,” says Dr. Mihailidis.

AGE-WELL and CFN expand their mandates through Healthy Aging Canada with the support of 600 established partnerships representing universities, industry, community, not-for-profits, healthcare organizations, and government.

Dr. Rafik Goubran, VP of Research and International and Chancellor’s Professor, Carleton University

Dr. Rafik Goubran, VP of Research and International and Chancellor’s Professor, Carleton University, says: “AGE-WELL and CFN is the perfect combination – this partnership ensures we approach research with multidisciplinary, multisectoral involvement and full engagement from older adults. Technology has advanced a great deal over the years, and now is the time to do research that determines the best use of technology to improve the health and well-being of older adults.”

Laura Tamblyn Watts, President and CEO, CanAge, shares the urgency for this collaboration: “The Healthy Aging Canada initiative is not a nice to have; it’s a must-have. We need to ensure we are planning for the real and profound economic, financial, and social strains that population aging is already starting to have and its more significant impact over the next couple of decades. We know that both AGE-WELL and CFN have made enormous positive changes in the lives of older Canadians and their care partners; this collaboration brings together the best people, ideas, and opportunities into one place to launch this urgently needed collaboration forward.”

The impact on healthy aging in Canada

Healthy Aging Canada provides the critical research pillar to an ecosystem for aging research and innovation across the older adult life course, from aging well with minimal limitations to end-of-life care.

Laura Tamblyn Watts, President and CEO, CanAge

“We’ve heard loud and clear that Canadians want to remain in their residence of choice for as long as possible,” says Dr. Muscedere, who is also a critical care physician. “We’ve also heard Canadians want to optimize their quality of life and functional ability as they grow older. Through Healthy Aging Canada, we can effect change, so Canadians are functionally enabled and maintain a quality of life until the end of their natural lifespan allowing them to participate in society and have a reduced dependency on healthcare supports and caregivers.”

Tamblyn Watts recognizes the enormous potential for Healthy Aging Canada to improve the aging experience in Canada. “It’s going to let people age at home better, it’s going to reduce social isolation and loneliness, it’s going to foster intergenerational connections, and it’s going to reduce economic burden. Healthy Aging Canada will be the embodiment of excellence and innovation in the field of aging.”

Moving forward

Later this month, AGE-WELL and CFN will issue a request for proposals for research projects with a healthy aging focus as part of the new Healthy Aging Canada initiative.

They are seeking funding from the Strategic Science Fund program, jointly administered by Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada and Health Canada, to support this pan-Canadian research initiative.