Andrew Sixsmith, scientific director of AGE-WELL Network of Centres of Excellence, is director of the new STAR Institute, which will oversee innovation and research on healthy aging.

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SFU creates institute for tech research on healthy aging

January 30, 2017
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A new research institute established at Simon Fraser University’s Surrey campus will channel innovation and oversee research and skill development for B.C.’s healthy aging tech industry.

The Science and Technology for Aging Research (STAR) Institute builds on a significant “critical mass” of research programs that already exist at SFU and will provide a platform for future proposals.

It will also be a conduit for collaborations with community partners, service providers, and government across disciplines and institutions.

“The STAR Institute is a prime example of what we can accomplish through collaboration and the mobilization of ideas for positive social and economic impact,” says Joy Johnson, SFU’s Vice-President, Research and International. “SFU Innovates, our university-wide strategy, seeks to strengthen the University’s commitment to innovation. The establishment of the institute exemplifies this vision.”

The institute aims to make SFU “a world leader in research and innovation in the aging and technology sector, becoming an essential resource for industry and services in B.C.,” says Andrew Sixsmith, professor and former director of SFU’s Gerontology Research Centre (GRC), and STAR Institute director.

“Our goal is to mobilize an enormous pool of talented SFU researchers and students, and drive the development of new devices and systems that will benefit B.C. seniors and caregivers,” he says.

“Expertise in aging and technology is a growth sector,” he adds. “Providing training and internships in this area will also provide students with a competitive edge in the labour market.”

Based at SFU, researchers are integrated throughout Surrey’s Innovation Boulevard (IB) in key research and development spaces that support engaged research.

These include the Digital Health Hub at SFU, Bridges to Surrey—part of the Health Tech Innovation Hub at City Centre 1, across from Surrey Memorial Hospital—and various research ‘nodes’ throughout IB, and the IRMACS Centre (and Big Data Hub) at SFU’s Burnaby campus.

Sixsmith says research and innovation will target several aging and technology sector markets, including long-term care, home care and direct-to-consumer care. Research will comprise such areas as mobile technologies, smart environments, big data, visualization and simulation, and wearable devices.

“We need to get away from thinking that old age is about declining health and sickness and focus on well-being and technological solutions,” he says. SFU’s GRC has a strong focus on improving the built environment, for example, while global research is focusing on such issues as personhood in dementia.

The institute is affiliated with Canada’s AGE-WELL Network of Centes of Excellence, established in 2015 to advance the health and wellbeing of older adults and drive aging research, innovation and technology transfer across the country.

Among projects, Sixsmith, who is also AGE-WELL’s scientific director, is studying ways to improve “the digital divide” between internet service use and seniors’ awareness of services. Study findings are expected this spring.

Projects underway in several B.C. long-term care facilities focus on better understanding dementia care, using brain monitoring and video surveillance to reduce violent incidents in the care-facility environment, and fall detection and activity monitoring using a wearable wrist device.

A catalyst for collaborative research and outreach activities on technology and aging across SFU, the institute already has more than 25 industry and community partners involved in collaborations, and the number continues to grow.