Optimal Aging in Place: What Million$ can do.

“If I had a million dollars… I’d buy you a house… If I had a million dollars… I’d buy you furniture for your house… If I had a million dollars… I’d build a tree fort in your yard…”

Ed Robertson, Steven Page

million-dollarsWhat would the adapted lyrics be to “If I Had a $1,000,000” by the Barenaked Ladies, if applied to the great Aging in Place social project? – If I had a million dollars… I’d let you age there in that house… If I had a million dollars… I’d let you keep that tree fort too.

Well as it happens over the last five years or so, there is much more than a million dollars going into health and social research, and product and technology development, to explore better ways to help people sustain greater livability in their own home as they age. This also at the same time promotes independence, with components for mobility and community connectivity, and ultimately achieves ideal cost effectiveness for health and home care services to the individual.

As mentioned in last week’s post, to learn more about aging in place initiatives, I’m attending the Sheridan Centre for Elder Research October 27th event – Insights About Technology & Aging in Place, where Alex Mihailidis, PhD, Scientific Director at Toronto based AGE-WELL is the key-note speaker. His lead off presentation is Disrupting the Current Technology & Aging Landscape.

This intersection of technology and aging in place is only one of many in which we are experiencing this inflow of investment in aging research. Other examples of investments at a regional level, can be found right here in Ontario. Further to the 2012 private donation of $10 Million to the McMaster University Institute for Research on Aging by former RBC bank executive Suzanne Labarge – in October 2016, she has donated $15 Million to what has since become the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative.

In September 2013, Suzanne Labarge began a three-year term as Chancellor of McMaster University. During that time, and in to the future it appears, she continued to make optimal aging research her singular mission. The Optimal Aging Initiative website pulls together four research project themes under what they call the “Opportunities Fund”: Chronic Disease, Infection, Mobility and Knowledge Translation. It’s testimony to what the power of a Champion and Million$ can do.

Optimal Aging, when knowledge is power

The theme that registers with me is this Knowledge Translation. On the website described as the KT Enterprise, this is broken down into four parts, two of which are “citizen panels” and “student-led conversations”. This to me is where as I believe, the benefits from all this research must trickle down to street level and actually help people now. Where are these panels and conversations happening apart from conferences where the insiders in the field of studies and research gather?

In the McMaster case in 2015/16, in Hamilton, Ontario there have been seven co-sponsored knowledge sessions open to the public including this one in 2015 on Wearable Technologies. Where McMaster makes the best good on their promise is the Optimal Aging Portal, which is rich in content including the blog posts. Confusing with its URLs, the navigation to this portal is accessible through the main Optimal Aging Initiative website.

At Sheridan College, Centre for Elder Research in Oakville, Ontario, perhaps not as yet with such a robust glitz endowed web site and Million$ from patron donations, there has been under the leadership and vision of their Director, Pat Spadafora, a steady stream of research partnerships over the years. In addition, Sheridan’s Business of Aging Global Network and Consumer Insight Panel extends the invitation to conversations, opening the door to those of us outside academia.

Which brings me back to the McMaster/Labarge notion of Knowledge Translation and student-led conversations. This is something I would like to see more of and I would love to be a moderator or facilitator of these kind of opportunities. Maybe more student shared in so much as to advance the dialogue into an inter-generational appreciation of how – once we get past the learning about the issues and technologies and such – we can collectively shape up for this aging and longevity journey well beyond the next 25 -30 years.

When aging in place has its outer limits

Decisions we make for the future can’t be simply framed around one generation. Current reports and dialogue around topics like aging in place tend to lead with hackneyed phrases like “what we’re going to do to deal with the baby boomers… as they march into their senior years”. Well I don’t want to be dealt with and I’m certainly not marching anywhere, especially if I’ve been encouraged to consider aging in place.

What would be highly informative about an inter-generational exchange on this noble desire for aging in place as we see it today is – what will that look like in phased out thinking over several decades? Ask someone in their 20’s right now – where and how “in place” will be by the time they’re forty years older, when the twentieth century models of home ownership, career journeys, marital relationships and financial planning for later years are all in a 2016 shake-up reset mode.

For that matter, so too is all this in reset for those boomers on that so-called march. The number of coffee conversations of those in their 60’s versus those in their 70’s or 80’s about aging in place are all over the place and increasingly gaining immediate relevance to be sure. Yet what you quickly discover is that when it comes to reality, aging in place has its outer limits.

Depending on the frequency of disruptions in your life situation, assessment and decision making for aging in place will be a recurring process, requiring forward thinking. In many cases, final actions could be made with or without honest consultation or trusted support, and/or it may be taken out of your control for whatever reason. In any event, it there is one lesson here, it is that the onus is on each of us to apply research skills early and more often, and we don’t need a million dollars for that – but…

“If I had a million dollars… we wouldn’t have to walk to the store… If I had a million dollars… we’d take a limousine ‘cause it costs more…”

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