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Research opens doors for seniors

Great things are afoot in Waterloo, Ont. Under the direction of Dr. Mike Sharratt, the Research Institute for Aging (RIA), an independent institute affiliated with the University of Waterloo (UW), is doing some very progressive work in seniors’ care. The institute receives generous funding support from Ron Schlegel, owner and operator of retirement and long-term care homes across Ontario.

Research Institute for Aging (RIA) Waterloo (logo)One of RIA’s projects is the Smart Walker – a walker equipped with a computer, sensors, video and audio. Two speed monitors record falls. Brakes are set to operate appropriately and prevent users from running into one another – imagine what a safety feature this would be at dinnertime in a retirement home where many residents have walkers.

A UW researcher is working with the institute to develop onscreen virtual displays of retirement campuses. The application identifies shops and other places on the campus in relation to the user’s position. This helps seniors to navigate the campus and, because they have a clearer idea of where they are going, gives them the confidence to do so.

RIA is also working with a former Waterloo student who designed the Sit-to-Stand trainer for NeuroGym. This device helps individuals to stand and regain strength and requires only one staff member to operate it. Eventually users are able to stand unaided. “We’ve had people in tears – they’ve just been so happy. They didn’t believe that they would ever be able to stand again,” says Dr. Sharratt.

It appears that 50 per cent of what was thought to be an age-related loss of aerobic capacity was more an effect of sedentary living, Dr. Sharratt says. “There is evidence to show you can actually recover not only physical, but also brain function.”

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