MP Randeep Sarai, Surrey Centre, left, and former Vancouver mayor and Premier of B.C. Michael Harcourt at the launch of the AGE-WELL National Innovation Hub: Digital Health Circle on Jan. 17. (Contributed)

New national innovation hub to help seniors age well in B.C.

The AGE-WELL National Innovation Hub: Digital Health Circle was launched Jan. 17

A new national innovation hub at Simon Fraser University is putting the health of seniors first.

The AGE-WELL National Innovation Hub: Digital Health Circle was launched by the AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence, Canada’s technology and aging network on Jan. 17 at SFU’s Surrey campus.

AGE-WELL is a pan-Canadian network that brings together researchers, older adults, caregivers, partner organizations and future leaders to accelerate the delivery of technology-based solutions that make a meaningful difference in the lives of Canadians.

Its goal is to address aging challenges through digital technologies. The Digital Health Circle will drive innovation to improve the quality of life for seniors.

The Digital Health Circle’s CEO, Sylvain Moreno, is an associate professor of professional practice at SFU’s School of Interactive Arts and Technology (SIAT) and specializes in neuro-technologies related to interactive digital media and brain health solutions.

Moreno’s executive assistant, Killian Kleffner, says the first thing they are going to do is conduct community consultations with seniors in communities across the province.

“What we do is we work with multiple stakeholders, including groups of older adults, from the beginning,” explained Kleffner.

“We match them with companies so that the older adults are actually driving the type of innovation that are necessary for them because nobody knows what their needs are better than themselves,” he continued.

Kleffner says they hope to involve as many communities across B.C. as they can, including both rural and urban areas because “the needs of each of those communities are going to be quite different from each other.”

The mission of the Digital Health Circle is to help older adults in B.C. and across Canada live well with independence, dignity and good health. It will also help B.C. companies, community and academic partners design solutions that fit the needs of their users and stakeholders.

What they are doing is focusing on platforms that will act as a bridge between people.

“So maybe one of the things that we will do is we will work with a company to develop software applications that are more suited to seniors,” said Kleffner, explaining that those software applications would be different for seniors who are actually quite familiar and expert with technologies to those seniors with dementia, who would need a different interface, and seniors with other degenerative issues, such as eyesight.

“Because the problem right now is that most things are developed for using young adults as the pool of people for user experience, that is not going to translate to older adults,” said Kleffner.

The plan for the first year is to work with B.C. companies to re-develop their existing technologies to suit seniors.

One company they are working with focuses on user design for treatment compliance. What the Digital Health Circle wants to do is redevelop this software to address compliance in older adults, whether that is going for doctor checkups or treatment for physical therapy or hip replacement.

“So what we really are is a service provider to really link together B.C. companies and seniors so that they can be better able to develop technolies for those seniors,” explained Kleffner.

“The Digital Health Circle’s focus on translating knowledge into new technologies is essential for British Columbia to strengthen our research and innovation while growing the health technology sector in B.C.,” said hub CEO Sylvain Moreno.

“The hub will coalesce these objectives to deliver real impact and improvement to the aging population in B.C,” he added.

Western Economic Diversification Canada, a federal institution that is part of the Innovation, Science and Economic Development portfolio, is providing $3.5 million for the new hub.

The hub’s leadership team includes Carolyn Sparrey, VP Research and Training, and an associate professor in SFU’s School of Mechatronic Systems Engineering(MSE), and Thecla Schiphorst, VP Design and Community Engagement, and a SIAT professor.

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