Waterloo researchers lead aging and technology projects in new network

Smart mattresses designed to prevent bedsores and sensors able to track night wandering are just two of the projects researchers from the University of Waterloo will lead for AGE-WELL, one of five new Networks of Centres of Excellence in Canada. Today, the Honourable Alice Wong, Minister of State (Seniors), announced that AGE-WELL will receive $36.6 million in funding over the next five years for research that creates and evaluates technology to benefit older adults.

Professors Joon Lee and John Hirdes, both of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Waterloo, will use the funding to work with Engage Biomechanics to test mattresses that can detect movement in bedridden persons in order to prevent pressure ulcers. Sensors on the mattress will collect data and link with other health information using advanced algorithms to assess the sleeper’s condition and make clinical recommendations. Users can access this information on computers, smartphones or tablets and connect directly with telemedicine services. The research has the potential to reduce the burden on the health care system by keeping seniors in their homes longer and minimizing visits to doctors’ offices.

“Smart mattresses are just one example of how we can apply technology to solve health challenges associated with the aging population,” said Professor Lee. “We can really empower older persons and their caregivers to continuously monitor their health by leveraging recent advances in mobile devices, sensor technology, cloud computing and Big Data analytics.”

Professor Jesse Hoey of the Faculty of Mathematics at Waterloo will lead a project investigating the types of technology caregivers can easily install in seniors’ homes to improve security. Working in collaboration with the Université de Sherbrooke, Professor Hoey will develop and assess customizable sensors that can automatically assist older adults, or link directly with caregivers to alert them of unusual behaviour. One of the project’s first applications will explore how sensors can gather real-time information to track and prevent wandering or problematic nighttime behaviour.

“The idea of building your own version of a smart home is something that is becoming more and more of a commercial reality,” said Hoey. “We want make it easy for elderly people, including those with cognitive impairments, and their caregivers to benefit from this trend.”

In addition to overseeing three projects for AGE-WELL, Professor Paul Stolee of the Faculty of Applied Health Sciences at Waterloo will help determine how new health technologies for seniors can be more quickly adopted into existing policy.

“New technologies offer many possible benefits for the health and quality of life of older persons, but it is often difficult to make decisions about which technologies should be approved, how their use should be monitored and how they should be paid for,” said Professor Stolee. “Without efficient policy frameworks, seniors will not be able to benefit from all the new innovations and technologies becoming available.”

AGE-WELL is a pan-Canadian network of partners that aims to help older Canadians maintain their independence, health and quality of life through accessible technologies that increase their safety and security, support their independent living, and enhance their social participation.


For more information, please contact:

Pamela Smyth
University of Waterloo