The aging population of British Columbia has city and provincial planners, seniors organizations, and seniors themselves teaming up with health researchers to understand how the physical and social environment can impact older adult mobility, social connectedness, independence, and, ultimately, their health.
According to Statistics Canada, by 2031 people over the age of 65 will make up 23% of the population of the province.
Researchers at the Centre for Hip Health and Mobility, at Vancouver Coastal Health and UBC, are internationally recognized experts in the area of mobility, physical activity and health research - and they are addressing the needs of this booming aging demographic.
Their research group, Walk the Talk Team, was awarded a prestigious six year, $1.5M emerging team grant from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research to examine the factors that facilitate or inhibit the health of aging citizens. Ultimately, the team aims to prolong active and independent living for aging Canadians - an essential strategy to enhance quality of life, promote physical health, and reduce dependency on the health care system.
"The typical pedestrian cross light begins to flash 'the hand' after just seven seconds" says Dr. Heather McKay, director, Centre for Hip Health and Mobility and professor in the Departments of Family Practice and Orthopedics, UBC Faculty of Medicine.
"If you are an older adult with a cane, a shopping bag and a vision impediment - the intersection becomes the enemy as you know you may not get across in time. These seemingly simple things greatly impact the safety and confidence of older adults, and ultimate influences their willingness to get out in and interact with, their community."
The research team has sought partnerships with the City of Vancouver, City of Surrey, BC Housing, and numerous community groups, including the South Vancouver Neighbourhood House and the West End Seniors' Network to ensure that the community can both inform the research projects, and also be in a position to readily move findings into action.
On Tuesday, November 1st, the research team will host its 2nd Annual Research and Community Partnership Symposium at the Roundhouse Community Centre in downtown Vancouver - "If we build it, will they walk?" There will be a full day of interactive presentations and dialogue where civic planners, engineer, elected official, provincial government representatives, community organization representatives, researchers and seniors themselves will share their perspectives, examine successful initiatives, tackle barriers and initiate an action plan for activities that positively impact the mobility and health of older adults.
Prolonging active and independent living for the aging demographic has been highlighted by many levels of government as an essential strategy for enhancing quality of life, promoting physical health and reducing dependency on the health care system.
"It is all about team work.", says Dr. Joanie Sims-Gould, a lead-researcher on the project, "To succeed we must engage diverse groups across multiple sectors and address this complex problem together and, most importantly, we need to see the challenges of moving about one's neighbourhood through the eyes of an older adult."