AGE-WELL announces three recipients of Early Career Researcher Awards

AGE-WELL is pleased to announce three new recipients of Early Career Researcher Awards to support their work in co-designing real-world solutions for older adults as part of developing the future of AgeTech in Canada.

Dr. Aaron Yurkewich, an alumnus of AGE-WELL’s Early Professionals, Inspired Careers (EPIC) training program, is the recipient of an AGE-WELL Early Career Researcher Award. The award enables highly qualified professionals (HQP) or trainees who have completed the EPIC Program to continue to think and work in the ‘AGE-WELL way’ as early career researchers. This approach includes committing to transdisciplinary work, prioritizing co-design with stakeholders, and aiming to produce real-world solutions.

Dr. Yurkewich’s research project will create a community of health care practitioners, caregivers and older adults to inform the best way to use ‘smart’ clothing to monitor and measure older adults’ health and provide adaptive support. For example, Dr. Yurkewich and his team are interested in designing clothing embedded with sensors or other technology to detect a person’s agitation at the very early stages so they get the necessary help; a vest to measure the skin’s temperature and provide heat when needed; or clothing that provides mobility assistance to make it easier to stand up, walk longer distances, or lift heavy objects. Stakeholder engagement will be ongoing from the beginning stages of the design process to successfully create smart clothing older adults find valuable and effective in improving their well-being and independence.

“It’s very important that we’re developing a solution with the input from the people who will use the technology,” says Dr. Yurkewich, Assistant Professor at Ontario Tech University. “This award allows me to go a bit outside my comfort zone to work on more qualitative research and engage stakeholders early in the smart clothing process. AGE-WELL is the supreme supporter of focusing on co-design and engaging the community very early on and, without their support, this kind of research wouldn’t be possible.”

Dr. Charlene Chu and Dr. Ruth Ndjaboue are the recipients of EPIC-AT Early Career Researcher Awards in Patient-Oriented Research.

The Early Professionals, Inspired Careers in AgeTech Health Research Training Platform (EPIC-AT HRTP) is a national training platform that prepares graduate students, postdoctoral fellows and early career researchers to be future leaders in digital health solutions for older adults with complex health needs. EPIC-AT is also pleased to offer Black, Indigenous, and racialized early career researchers funding to support patient-oriented research and patient engagement. Funding for these awards was made available through the Strategy for Patient-Oriented Research (SPOR) Supplement to CIHR Health Research Training Platforms.

Dr. Chu’s research project aims to refine an artificial intelligence-based sensor system to improve older adults’ hip fracture recovery by providing personalized, timely and relevant feedback to them and their rehabilitation clinicians. Working with her co-principal investigator, Dr. Shehroz Khan, the technology will incorporate multiple modalities (e.g., motion sensors and wearable devices) to collect data on older adults’ physical activity, mobility and overall well-being. Recognizing that older adults and clinicians may define a successful recovery differently, Dr. Chu will co-design the project with both older adults and clinicians to create a system responsive to all needs and preferences. The goal is to improve older adults’ rehabilitation outcomes, maintain independence and prevent further health complications.

“The needs and wants of older adults are at the core of this research,” shares Dr. Chu, Assistant Professor, Lawrence S. Bloomberg Faculty of Nursing, University of Toronto, and a registered nurse with a specialty in gerontological nursing, who also participated in AGE-WELL’s EPIC training program. “So many innovations fail because the technologies don’t align with what older adults want, it’s unclear how it may benefit them, or it doesn’t fit into their daily living. I was ecstatic to receive this award from AGE-WELL ‒ a leading global organization whose vision and mission align with my values in how we optimize technologies to change practice and improve the lives of older adults and their caregivers.”

Dr. Ndjaboue’s research project will evaluate the effectiveness and accessibility of an online tool, PromoSanté, developed in response to the COVID-19 crisis to support seniors with high digital literacy and complex health needs at risk of deconditioning. Dr. Ndjaboue’s goal is inclusivity. Through older adult engagement and data collection, Dr. Ndjaboue will explore whether PromoSanté can be adapted to address technology barriers or whether PromoSanté does not work for older adults with low digital literacy and how to build a more inclusive and effective solution.

“It made my day when I received the news about this award,” says Dr. Ndjaboue, Assistant Professor at Université de Sherbrooke. “It gives me a unique opportunity to put myself out there to work on the technology research that I have always wanted to do. I was inspired to apply for this award because AGE-WELL’s support is key to helping me cross into the technology side of my aging research by building a network of researchers specializing in aging and technology.”

Dr. Alex Mihailidis, Scientific Director and CEO of AGE-WELL, says: “We are delighted to continue our collaborations with Drs. Yurkewich and Chu, and we warmly welcome Dr. Ndjaboue to the AGE-WELL network. Understanding that Canada is poised to become a global leader in the AgeTech sector, it is essential to invest in and empower early career researchers who are our future leaders in research, government, industry and non-profit organizations.”

Powered by AGE-WELL, EPIC-AT is led by researchers from 11 universities and research hospitals across 6 Canadian provinces. It is hosted at the University of Toronto. This unique platform is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) with additional support provided by 41 collaborating organizations from across Canada. Learn more about EPIC-AT here.

Learn more about the AGE-WELL Early Career Researcher (ECR) Program here.