Ron Beleno: 2020 AGE-WELL Honorary Fellow Award Recipient

Ron Beleno understands aging and caregiving issues in a personal way. He looked after his father, who had Alzheimer’s disease, for the last 10 years of his life. Beleno understands firsthand how important it is to have support and resources available to navigate the caregiver’s journey. He has become known for his ability to connect with others, his storytelling and compassion. He has emerged as a leading advocate in the caregiving space.

For Beleno, sharing his experiences with a larger audience evolved organically. At first, other caregivers reached out to him for advice. As demand for his expertise grew, he became an advisor to not-for-profit groups and a sought-after speaker. He realized there was a need to have someone with his depth of understanding and skill-set helping to guide others.

Beleno’s involvement with AGE-WELL began five years ago. He was giving a presentation at a meeting of the Alzheimer Society of Canada. Dr. Alex Mihailidis, AGE-WELL’s scientific director, was there. So was AGE-WELL researcher Dr. Lili Liu. After Beleno’s presentation, the two invited him to become part of AGE-WELL.

He then attended AGE-WELL’s first Summer Institute in Mont Tremblant, Quebec―a week-long event to train future leaders in technology and aging. “My involvement in the network took off from there,” says Beleno. “I came to give a talk about dementia and caregiving and I fell in love with the research community. I got to meet so many incredible young researchers and coach them. I love mentoring. It’s one of the things I love about my role with AGE-WELL―that and being able to connect with older adults and caregivers. They’re in my heart because I know the pain points.”

Beleno was soon immersed in a number of AGE-WELL research projects, bringing great ideas, business savvy and an invaluable caregiver perspective. He collaborated with one team on a website which helps consumers choose GPS technologies that can locate loved ones with dementia who wander. He is working on a localized alert system called Community ASAP that could help police find missing seniors.

Beleno with attendees at AGE-WELL’s Day on the Hill in Ottawa in 2018.

Beleno also helped lead the formation of the Older Adult and Caregiver Advisory Committee (OACAC) to advise the AGE-WELL network as a whole. “OACAC was created to be that connection piece that would allow others to contribute and to work with researchers, innovators, and partners at an equal level,” says Beleno, who is co-chair of the committee.

His selection as a recipient of the 2020 AGE-WELL Honorary Fellow Award recognizes his passion for technology and his tireless efforts as a dementia and caregiving advocate. Beleno’s leadership as co-chair of the OACAC has been pivotal in strengthening the organization by bringing the expertise and counsel of caregivers and older Canadians directly into network decision-making.

“This award is humbling,” says Beleno. “It acknowledges the voice that an older adult and caregiver can have in the community, and the impact we can have on others. It says that sharing my voice, my stories and my challenges are valued. This recognition is not mine alone. I share it with the voices of many others who channelled their stories through me.”

Looking forward, Beleno will be exploring new avenues to share his knowledge and continue to work with AGE-WELL on its efforts to change the narrative around aging and to provide caregivers with new hope and support.

“AGE-WELL makes a difference in many people’s lives—improving them by offering solutions, validation, and policy changes,” says Beleno. “I know my dad would be proud of what we are accomplishing. I am grateful to community members, specifically older adults and caregivers who allowed me to be part of their lives, have a meal with them, break bread and to say, ‘We are all cheering for each other and we want you to succeed.’”