Innovation in aging and brain health

By David Stoller

It is an undeniable reality that as the global population ages, all countries must improve their involvement in helping manage and care for older adults.  This is critically important because, as indicated by the World Health Organization’s (WHO) “World Report on Ageing and Health”, the predicted number of people over the age of 60 around the world will double to 2 billion by 2050.

Tied to the aging population is the rise in the number of seniors with dementia.  The WHO goes on to note there are approximately 47.5 million people worldwide who currently have dementia, and that 7.7 million new cases are diagnosed every year.  The increase in the number of older adults, and specifically those who suffer from dementia, calls for organizations and professionals within the healthcare community to work together to provide better long-term outcomes for these patients and their families.

Enter the Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation (CABHI), a solution accelerator focused on driving innovation in the aging and brain health sector. To accelerate the pace of innovation, CABHI collaborates with researchers, clinicians, point-of-care workers, and industry partners to develop, test, and disseminate solutions that improve brain health and quality of life for older adults.

Since the fall of 2016, CABHI has launched and approved over 90 innovation projects, levered $30 million towards innovation activities, and engaged with over 250 partners; all in an effort to bring the latest and greatest aging and brain health innovations to market.  As CABHI works with projects and partners, exposure to the latest trends innovation in this sector is inevitable.  Here are some of the innovation trends that are likely to see further development in 2018:

Focus on the caregiver

As the population rises, so too does the pressure on both formal and informal caregivers.  Family caregivers are going to need more support, training, and resources to help them care for their loved ones.  At the same time, as demand for caregiving goes up with the aging population, formal caregivers are going to be experiencing potential staff shortages, which could stretch the industry and lead to quality concerns and challenges in attracting and training new people to the profession.  Given these issues, more innovations that focus on caregivers are likely on the horizon.

(CABHI) supports a number of projects geared specifically towards caregivers.  One of them, the Road to Connection, is not your typical caregiver support group. For starters, it caters to both caregivers and their spouses experiencing dementia. Running for 10 weeks, the CABHI-supported program features a specialized art class for seniors dealing with dementia and a support group for their spouses.  The two groups run simultaneously for about an hour. After that, they converge so the couples have a chance to collaborate and see the art their spouses have created.  Thanks to the group, one Caregiver now feels like she has a support network in Toronto, and hopes more couples will be able to take part in Road to Connection. “When we came from Montreal, we were completely lacking resources,” she admits. “Now, in addition to having a support network, we know where to go and who to approach. This program has been tremendous – truly an asset to the community.”

Innovating for cognitive fitness

Finding new ways to engage older adults cognitively will be another focus going forward.  As the number of older adults continues to climb, the need to develop new technologies that can increase awareness, reduce stigmas, and improve prediction will help long-term care providers better support their residents.  One such innovation has managed to combine cognitive fitness with physical exercise, and CABHI is currently supporting a trial of this technology in Ontario.

Motiview, a technology that pairs slow TV (slow TV is a genre that broadcasts visual experiences in real time) with adapted exercise bikes, asks questions such as: What happens when you pair slow TV with exercise bikes in the care of older adults? Will it increase a person’s motivation to exercise?  This project is currently being trialled at three sites in Canada.  Early trials brought about a reduction in aggressive behaviour along with a decrease in medication for pain and for depression. There was also a reduction in anxiety and a great decease in falls incidences.  This project still has a long way to go, but it is a good example of how cognitive fitness is finding its way into the innovation space.

Coordinating and navigating care

The older you get, the more complex the healthcare sector can become.  Older adults often have at least two chronic conditions, and finding ways to negotiate multiple medications, appointments, doctors, specialists, and locations will continue to challenge both older adults and their caregivers.  That is why innovations that focus on making the coordination and navigation of care easier will continue to grow in 2018.  Families and their providers will need new innovations to support care transitions, collaborations, remote care, and many of the other challenges that arrive with advanced age.  Today, CABHI has a number of projects in the pipeline that are addressing these concerns, and the expectation is that the next round of project funding will include several more projects that focus on care coordination and navigation.

KARIE is a medication management solution that is loaded with multi-dose pouch packaging, gets plugged into a wall and lights up to inform users that their dose is prepared and it’s time to take their medication.

One such example is KARIE, a medication management solution that is loaded with multi-dose pouch packaging, gets plugged into a wall and lights up to inform users that their dose is prepared and it’s time to take their medication.  The device reads the information on the packaging and automatically schedules when it should be dispensed. If for some reason the user forgets to do so, a family member or caregiver is automatically notified that a dose was missed.  With one out of every five people admitted to nursing homes owning their admission to medication non-compliance, this solution hopes to reduce admissions and empower older adults to age in the setting of their choice.

The time to innovate is now

The need for innovation is critical!   Patients, families, and members of the healthcare community are facing ever-mounting challenges from an aging population.  Of particular note is the struggle people face in caring for someone with an illness that affects their cognitive abilities. However, thanks to funding programs made available through organizations such as CABHI, the future of innovation in Canada is bright, and the prospects for our aging population continue to improve.

For more information on how you can participate in CABHI innovation programs, or support their innovations as a trial partner visit or email

David Stoller is the Senior Marketing Specialist at The Centre for Aging + Brain Health Innovation, Baycrest Health Sciences.