Combating Social Isolation During the Holiday Season

imagesAs a previous Aging Matters blog discussed, the holiday season may be difficult for some older adults who are experiencing social isolation. There are many contributing factors that place an older adult at risk for loneliness and social isolation. According to the McMaster Aging Portal; “Older adults are at increased risk of being socially isolated or lonely. By the time people reach their 80s, the majority live on their own, mostly because of widowhood. This is particularly the case for older women who are more likely to be widowed than older men. Older people’s social networks often get smaller for other reasons as well – children may have moved away, along with grandchildren, and aging siblings and friends may have died. Loneliness is also prevalent among older adults. One in five Canadians aged 65 or older indicated that they felt lonely some of the time or often in a recent study. The proportion is even higher among those 85 years or older – 25% of individuals in that age bracket felt lonely some of the time or often. Living alone, health problems and disability, sensory impairment such as hearing loss, and major life events such as loss of a spouse have all been identified as risk factors for social isolation and loneliness.”

Fortunately, there are many community campaigns available worldwide to ensure that older adults are not alone during the holidays. One example is the Community Christmas project which believes that ‘no elderly person in the UK should be alone on Christmas Day unless they want to be’. The project provides resources and support for those who wish to provide companionship for older adults on Christmas Day.

Studies have shown that older adults who use technology feel less lonely. Technology provides individuals with the tools to communicate and engage with family and friends who may live far away. Social websites such as strive to provide a ‘positive and safe community’ for older adults to engage with others.

The Centre for Elder Research wishes everyone a happy holiday season and all the best in the new year!

Guest Blog: Changing Patterns of Business Startups

By Adele Robertson

from-jane_4-2-oa140 years ago, the average life span in the Western world was 45 years old. In 2016, many Canadians can look forward to adding forty more years to that average. The question of leaving full time wage work at the typical “retirement” age of 65 is being scrutinized. 65 is the ‘new’ 75 or, even 80!

Today, even the word RETIRE is on the brink itself of being retired. The idea of a continued career, an encore career, finding other means of activity which generate income, is quickly being embraced by the boomer cohort. Why is this? Doesn’t the picture of the sunshine years, the endless golf games, and freedom 55 resonate with most people? Clearly not, should we believe many latest studies and, statistics.

One answer comes from a new book by Chris Farrell called “UNRETIREMENT, How Baby Boomers Are Changing the Way We Think About Work, Community and the Good Life”. Older people are starting businesses more than any other age group. The over 50’s often have a number of competitive advantages in the marketplace. Consider also the great lure of self employment; allowing for flexibility and control over your life…you are the boss!

There are myriad reasons for this economic and social turnabout. Obviously, one compelling factor is the wonderful health many enjoy. The US Center for Disease Control projects that the boomer group, (generally thought of as those born between 1948 and 1964), have an 84% average of “excellent health”. If you are healthy, why would you wish to settle down on the porch in the rocking chair?

The economic realities of the 21st Century translate into financial need for many individuals. They simply must continue to generate an income. 68% of Canadians will have no pension. Some individuals still have pensions that that income is insufficient to cover their normal and desired lifestyle. Even if there is not a pressing financial need, there is the reality of what to do with one’s time when your lifetime career ends. There are 2000 hours a year to fill when that job has ended. As well, changes in corporations often translate into downsizing leaving numerous people over 50 without a job.

Although Canadian statistics are quite difficult to isolate, the 2012 Stats Canada census determined that 49% of new Canadian businesses were started by people over the age of 50. Society is giving birth to a new phenomena: SENIORPRENEURISM. It is also known that this business demographic has doubled in recent years. When one realizes that small and medium business enterprises generate 97% of the economy, Seniorpreneurs are certainly a force to be reckoned with.

“A greater number of older workers may be self-employed in the future because the baby boomers will reach retirement with considerably more wealth and education than prior cohorts:, writes Rand Corporation economists. A Kauffmann Foundation report provides additional rationale for the rise in seniorpreneuers. Quite simply, older workers have skills, wisdom, experience, credibility, and key to many endeavours, they have developed superb networks. The various new technologies, notably the Internet and small business software, lower start up costs considerable. As well, those experienced workers desire to continue employment but they demand greater autonomy and flexibility. All of this can be obtained when you launch your own business.

Many individuals will relish the idea of an encore career which is self driven. At the same time, a cautionary tale suggests that older workers understand their motivations, their values and, their ability to absorb risk. Those risk avoidance individuals would be wise not to invest all their savings in a new venture, at an older age.

It is exciting that so many former seniors are retiring the world retire as they embark on often unique and innovative roles in their third life stage.

The Sheridan Centre for Elder Research is in an ideal position to be both a sounding board for would be seniorpreneuers and possibly, a physical and digital hub for cross current exchanges and programmes. We are currently, with the help of Sheridan student, Luisa Cardoza, carrying out preliminary research on the state of Canadian olderpreneurs. It is clear there is a vacuum in data and comprehensive research on the state of this activity in Canada. Much, much more is required to determine next steps. It is clear that substantial studies are in order and we plan to do just that in the near future.

____________________________________________________________________________ Adele Robertson is the CEO and Founder of V Generation and a Sheridan Centre for Elder Research advisory board member.

Aging in Place: Optimizing Health Outcomes through Technology, Design and Social Inclusion

itsawrapOn October 27th 2016, the Centre for Elder Research hosted a symposium to celebrate the end of a successful 6-year, $2.3 million grant from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

The grant, titled, Aging in Place: Optimizing Health Outcomes through Technology, Design and Social Inclusion explored how businesses and service providers could design their services/products/process to better meet the needs of older adults aging in place.

The It’s a Wrap! symposium highlighted the research conducted by the Centre in collaboration with 14 small- and medium-sized businesses and explored some emerging trends in the area with talks from 5 professionals who shared their insights into how technology supports aging in place.

Keynote speaker Alex Mihailidis, PhD., P.Eng., the Scientific Director of the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence, spoke about disruptive technology and its role in changing the current landscape of innovation. Alex described a challenging paradox that we are currently facing in Canada: the support needs of our growing, aging population are increasing, but the technological tools we have available to help us are underused by older adults because either they don’t support their needs, they are too expensive, they are not user-friendly, or, as in the case of some assistive devices, they are viewed as stigmatizing. Alex says we need to force new ways of thinking about technology and design; this is where the disruptive innovation (paired with a little bit of inspiration) comes into play. Some new technologies that are currently pushing that boundary include smart homes, driverless cars, advances in robotics and big data. Each of these new technologies has the potential to be adapted and/or customized to support a user’s unique needs and will certainly revolutionize the current innovation landscape. It’s pretty cool to think about what exciting things we’ll be able to do with technology in the coming years!

Robyn Kalda, a specialist in the use of technology for health promotion, focused on how we can use new technologies in health-promoting ways. Robyn pointed out that a large component of health promotion is feeling in control of health and lifestyle changes. From the perspective of technology, it is important to consider when devices (like the ever-popular ‘wearables’ for example) exist to give people control over their health versus when they are used to control people and their behaviours. This distinction has implications for the outcomes of health promotion strategies involving technology; we need to make sure the technology is having the right sort of impact on the user. The take away message from Robyn’s talk was when using technology for health promotion, either formally or even in your own life, think about:

1. Who was this technology designed for (i.e. is accessible for everyone?)
2. What is the evidence that it’s any good?
3. Does it give you control over your health/behaviour or does it take control away?

Something to think about before you buy that Fitbit for someone on your holiday shopping list…

John Helliker, the Director of Sheridan’s Screen Industries Research and Training Centre (SIRT) spoke more specifically about the opportunities for individual and social change using virtual and augmented reality technology. These technologies can have various applications in clinical and assistive living settings. Virtual reality allows the person interacting with it to have an immersive, first person perspective and experience a different reality, while augmented reality can enhance our understanding, and engagement with, the world around us by allowing us to access additional information or content. Think about the possibilities for using virtual or augmented reality to help people manage anxiety, phobias, depression or symptoms of dementia. Even more compellingly, virtual reality can also help to build empathy in friends, family, caregivers and health team members for individuals living with mental health issues or dementia by allowing them to experience first-hand these types of conditions. John believes that “the world is our oyster right now” with the development and use of this technology. You may have seen some people in your neighbourhood playing Pokemon Go in the last 6 months or so. Pokemon Go is a very successful example of augmented reality being used (in game form) by the general public.

Dr. Kelly Murphy, a Psychologist at Baycrest Health Services talked about a unique use of a technology more familiar and accessible to us all, the web-based app. Kelly walked attendees through the journey her team went through to develop and test a new app called ArtOnTheBrain. From the research literature, the Baycrest team knew that enjoyable and meaningful recreation improves well-being, and that there is something special about participation in the arts. It can often provide more holistic benefits than other recreation and leisure pursuits, and this is something that we’ve seen in our research at the Centre as well. So, ArtOnTheBrain was developed to provide an art-based experience that is user-led and involves learning about works of art and developing a dialogue with others. The goal, Kelly explained, was to develop a tool that could be part of a wider health toolkit for older adults. This app could promote social, emotional and spiritual well-being, and increases access to meaningful recreation, while still being accessible and sustainable and using technology that most people already have in their homes.

Mary Jane Carroll, a professor from Sheridan’s Bachelor of Interior Design program focused on the reality facing many older adults who are hoping to age in place, and that is the need for home modifications and the affordability of these renovations and assistive technologies. The greatest culprits? The majority of renovation costs come from remodeling the kitchen and bathrooms, widening hallways and making the front access point of the house more accessible.

Working with her students, Mary Jane has been running a Home Assessment research project to:

  1. Assess the ability of current homes to support aging in place and
  2. Explore the ways that design can help to provide affordable, practical solutions to combat the high cost of home modifications and accessible technologies.

Before you start that next renovation in your home or the home of a loved one, consider ways to support aging in place through your design choices – accessible homes benefit everyone who lives in them.

There you have it, a summary of the symposium, in case you missed it! While ‘it’s a wrap’ on this particular funding program, the Centre is currently engaged in multiple projects that build on the success of this grant to continue to conduct innovative, Lab to Life® research. Stay tuned to keep learning about our work, and thank you to everyone who contributed to the success of the Aging in Place grant!

Guest Blog: Aging in Place

homeBy Mary Jane Carroll

Home modifications are a big issue for many older adults who wish to age in place. Questions about the types of changes that can be made to a home, and the expense of these changes are common in my type of work. For those living on a fixed income the prospect of making home modifications can be worrisome. Frankly many older adults just don’t know where to begin. So it will come as no surprise, then, that one of the questions that I have asked myself as a researcher, designer and professor over the past few years has been how we, as an academic institution with a focus on undergraduate research, can disseminate information on affordable, practical home modification solutions to homeowners in a meaningful way. And additionally, how can we educate the next generation of designers to realize the importance of this emerging area of design? This issue of knowledge transfer is the focus of my talk at next Thursday’s “It’s a Wrap” symposium hosted by the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research. The program for the day is focused on technology and aging in place and is really a celebration of both the accomplishments of the Centre over the past six years, as well as a look at what’s next. My talk is called “Keeping it real: Aging in place for the next wave of seniors,” and I’ll be sharing with the group an exciting new home assessment project that we have developed in response to these questions and that we plan to launch in January 2017 with the Bachelor of Interior Design students. Here’s how the project works: Interior design students in groups of 2 or 3 will be matched with homeowners to evaluate the aging-in-place readiness of that homeowner’s current residence. The students will be using a pre-determined checklist, generated by Sheridan and with student input, and they will be looking for potentially hazardous areas in the home – areas that could pose a real challenge for homeowners as they age. The end goal is for students to provide the homeowner with a home modification plan as well as with a breakdown of estimated costs of products and services associated with these modifications.

The idea for this project began some years ago with a research thesis by one of our fourth year students. From there we launched a pilot project that asked students to assess two ranch style bungalows owned by older adults who had expressed interest in aging in place. The project proved so successful, and was so helpful to the homeowners that we have decided to expand the scope to include at least 10 homes this spring. And as part of my talk next Thursday I will be sharing the results of the pilot project with the session.

In late November we will begin our recruiting efforts in search of local homeowners to volunteer for the project. If you are interested in a free home assessment, or in more information on what to expect if you do volunteer your home, please don’t hesitate to contact me at Or better still, join us next Thursday on the Trafalgar Road campus at the “It’s a Wrap” conference and ask me about the program in person!
Mary Jane Carroll is a professor in the Bachelor of Interior Design program at Sheridan College. She developed a specialized post-diploma program at Sheridan called “Aging in Place Design Specialist”. Mary Jane was published in “Universal Design: Creating Inclusive Environments,” and has presented her papers on Universal Design in England and the USA.

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