PhD student Laura Kadowaki received a CIHR Doctoral Research Award to examine continuing care services for older adults.

Students, Gerontology

Graduate Student Profile: Laura Kadowaki, Gerontology

July 04, 2017

Laura Kadowaki, a PhD student in the Department of Gerontology, studies health care within the context of Canada’s aging demographic. According to the 2016 census, Canada’s population experienced its greatest increase in the proportion of older people: there are now 5.9 million Canadian seniors, compared to 5.8 million Canadians age 14 and under. And Statistics Canada suggests that this trend will increase: by 2031, the agency predicts that nearly one in four Canadians will be over 65. As Kadowaki notes, the data suggests that the field of gerontology is going to be increasingly important in the coming years. She hopes to address the needs of Canada’s aging population through her research and advocacy work.

Kadowaki was recently awarded a CIHR Doctoral Research Award (Sir Frederick Banting and Dr. Charles Best CGS Scholarship) in support of her research examining continuing care services for older adults, such as home and community care services, community-based seniors’ services, integrated care systems, and gerontology education. Through advocacy work like the Raising the Profile Project, a provincial network that makes the case for investment in community-based seniors’ services – those  offered by seniors centres, community agencies and municipal recreation centres – Kadowaki aims to improve health and community services for older adults in B.C. Their recent report, “Raising the Profile of the Community-Based Seniors’ Services Sector in B.C.: A Review of the Literature,” shows how a greater emphasis on health promotion and prevention programming (programs which contribute to the prevention of functional decline, chronic disease and illness) can result in significant improvements in older adults’ health, and reductions in the use of (and costs to) the healthcare system.

Kadowaki says "it is in our best interest as a society to have a strong system of continuing care in Canada."

In particular, Kadowaki says, the report highlights the important roles of community programs that promote nutrition, physical activity, and social support. As a volunteer at Eagle Ridge Manor, a residential care facility in Port Moody, BC, Kadowaki has seen these results first-hand. “While the staff at the manor do their best to make it a pleasant and comfortable environment, most older adults would prefer to grow old in their own homes. I think there are opportunities to improve care for frail older adults in B.C., and key to this is providing more resources to shift care into the community and support older adults to age in place in their own homes. There are some residents in the manor who I often think could perhaps have remained in their own homes if there were more supports available to them to age in place in their community.”

Kadawoki reports that Raising the Profile recently finished conducting seven regional consultations across the province, and in the fall will hold a provincial summit which will “bring together key stakeholders from the sector.” Kadowaki says what she really enjoys about this work is the opportunity to put research into action and engage in advocacy with the hope of creating change for older adults in BC: “This has been extremely rewarding, and many of the leaders of this work and people who have been at the forefront of advocating for change have been older adults themselves.”

This kind of self-advocacy by older adults also speaks to the kinds of stereotypes that Kadowaki hopes to shatter through her work. As she points out, “older adults are often portrayed as a homogenous group. It is important that we address stereotypes and ageist assumptions such as all older adults are frail/not capable/cranky/cannot use technology. Older adults are a very diverse population with a wide range of abilities, interests and circumstances.”

It’s never too late to use the internet. Studies show that adults in their 80s and 90s benefit from its use in a wide variety of ways (see image link).

So, too, is the field of gerontology. In 2016 Kadowaki co-authored a report on its many opportunities and interests, “Gerontology Graduate Training in North America: Shifting Landscapes, Innovation and Future Directions.” “Gerontology,” she says, “is truly an interdisciplinary field as aging impacts all aspects of our lives. This is really exciting for me as a researcher, as it means there are many opportunities for research in different areas, such as online dating habits, the walkability of outdoor environments, using technology to support aging, and resilience in later life. I like having so many different research opportunities available to me and the opportunity to work and learn from people working in different areas than me.”

Through her research, volunteerism, and advocacy, Kadowaki’s main goal remains her desire to contribute to the improvement of the public health care system in light of our aging population: “It might surprise people to know that the current legislation, the Canada Health Act, does not consider continuing care services (nursing home care, home care, home support) as ‘medically necessary’ services. Therefore, it is up to the provinces/territories to decide whether to provide continuing care services as a part of the health care system, and they can require patients to pay for these services.”

Kadowaki would like to see the legislation changed. “We all are going to be old one day and we all have parents or grandparents who might one day require continuing care services, so I think it is in our best interest as a society to have a strong system of continuing care in Canada which is comprehensive, well-coordinated and publically funded.” While she acknowledges there will be challenges presented by an aging population, she doesn’t think “there is any reason that we won’t be able to ensure that all Canadians have an appropriate quality of life and receive the services they need.”