Led by Dr. Andrew Wister, the Gerontology Research Centre (GRC) has pivoted its research programs to address the complicated systemic challenges of COVID-19 and its impact on the health of aging adults.


SFU’s Gerontology Research Centre pivots research to tackle questions raised in COVID-19’s “Gero-pandemic”

November 13, 2020

The continuing COVID-19 global health crisis presents unprecedented challenges to public health, health and continuing care systems, local and global economies, communities, and families. Under the direction of Dr. Andrew Wister, Simon Fraser University’s Gerontology Research Centre (GRC)  has pivoted its research program to address some of the structural, system-level questions that COVID-19 presents, including individual-level risks, resilience and responses to the pandemic. 

The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA) is a 20-year research initiative collecting data from 50,000 older individuals from across Canada.  Led by McMaster University, the CLSA involves more than 10 academic and hospital research sites, including SFU. 

Wister is SFU’s Principal Investigator, and the GRC is a core member of the study which follows 51,000 Canadians aged 45 – 85 for 20 years, beginning from 2012. Between March and November 2020, the CLSA developed and implemented a COVID-19 longitudinal survey with the aim of collecting survey data on almost 30,000 CLSA participants. 

CLSA data will provide cutting-edge information not only on the effects of COVID-19, but also insight into mitigation approaches on the social, psychological and economic dimensions of people’s lives, such as social isolation, depression, and loss of work. 

Wister says, “Gathering important new information and filling knowledge gaps is critical in order to successfully mitigate, adapt and respond to a 'gero-pandemic’ because COVID-19 presents heightened risks and deleterious outcomes for older people in Canadian society.”

A second study has recently been funded by the Canadian Task Force on Longitudinal Aging with $4 million in funding from Canada’s COVID-19 Immunity Task Force. This study will investigate the burden of SARS-CoV-2 infection among aging Canadians, a population known to be at greatest risk for death from COVID-19. Researchers will collect and analyze blood samples from more than 19,000 CLSA participants and survey their symptoms, risks factors, health-care use, and the psychosocial and economic impacts of COVID-19. 

This new study will link the results about the presence of antibodies and other immune markers from the blood sample analyses and collect questionnaire findings about seniors’ lives in the pandemic. It aims to paint a more comprehensive picture of the prevalence of SARS-CoV-2 and the impact of COVID-19 on older adults in Canada.

COVID-19 related research from the Gerontology Research Centre

  • Dr. Andrew Wister, SFU’s principal investigator on the CSLA, has two COVID-19 related studies underway: 1) the COVID-19 Telephone/Online Longitudinal Study and 2) Sero-prevalence COVID-19 Study. 
  • Dr. Theodore Cosco, Assistant Professor in the Gerontology Department and Associate Director of the GRC, is spearheading (with Gerontology faculty A. Wister & A. Sixsmith) a SSHRC Partnership grant examining technological solutions to enhance social connectedness among older adults in collaboration with a local community centre.
  • Dr. Cosco is also a co-investigator on a mental health intervention addressing the effects of physical distancing on mental health and substance abuse service use needs and gaps aimed at developing a digital socialization hub to be rolled out in Saskatchewan and BC. 
  • John Best, University Research Associate, GRC, is a co-investigator on a study that will develop the next generation blood test for COVID-19, with the aim that this test will provide insight into disease severity and acquisition of immunity.