A third of Canadians are 50 to 79 years old. As longevity increases, more people are at risk of developing dementia and this gives legitimate cause for concern.

"Our greatest fears are cognitive decline and not being able to make decisions for ourselves," says Dr. William E. Reichman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Baycrest Health Sciences. "We expect to lose some mobility, and we know we will need care, but we want care to be on our terms."

Baycrest, a world leader in geriatric care and in research of memory, is reshaping the aging journey for adults. Here are three examples of revolutionary technological innovations created by Baycrest and their partners.

  1. "A blood pressure cuff for the brain"

    Baycrest's commercialization arm for brain health, Cogniciti, has taken on the challenge of creating an early-warning assessment. The company, working closely with Baycrest's scientists, has developed a free, private, online brain health assessment for adults, 50 to 79 years of age. This "blood pressure cuff for the brain" has been research-validated to let baby boomers and seniors determine if their memory is normal or if it might be time to see a doctor.

    More than 42,000 people have already taken the assessment now being rolled out across North America. One of Cogniciti's lead researchers, Dr. Angela Troyer, explains the strong response. "As people grow older, they wonder whether their thinking abilities are normal. Everybody notices it, but it is hard to gauge. A lot of people approach Cogniciti thinking, 'I want to know if I have a problem.' And for the majority, they find through our assessment that they are doing just fine."

  2. Smartphone applications for people with memory loss

    At Memory Link, housed in Baycrest's Neuropsychology and Cognitive Health Program, experts are teaching people who have lost the ability to form new memories – due to illness or trauma – to make digital ones instead.

    With the help of commercial technologies and software, such as smartphones and wearables, Dr. Eva Svoboda, psychologist and lead clinician of Memory Link, and her team train people to use applications, such as calendars, photo programs and journaling software, to increase their independence and make sense of the world around them.

    Dr. Svoboda's team is also creating new applications to enhance memory function in those with memory impairment. "We include the end-user in the design process, which has been crucial to our success," says Dr. Svoboda. "We've learned valuable lessons about what's intuitive and what's not and, in a few cases, insights from a memory impairment perspective that we wouldn't have thought of."

    The Memory Link team plans to launch at least one of the applications for patient use in 2017.

  3. Taking the Virtual Brain mainstream

    What if doctors could pinpoint the exact spot where a brain health issue originates and test the impact of various long-term treatment options on any individual patient? Or allow pharmaceutical companies to conduct early-stage clinical trials on a digital human brain, rather than put people at risk? Meet The Virtual Brain, a fully functional computer model of the human brain. In the future, The Virtual Brain will be used to test experimental therapies before they are tested on humans, demonstrate how the brain changes as it ages and how it responds to damage from trauma or disease.

    Through the Ontario government-backed Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation, Baycrest is collaborating with researchers from 10 sites on three continents to create the world's first virtual brain. This includes working with Interaxon, the producer of a brain-sensing headband called "Muse" that assists with meditation. Dr. Tanya Brown, Program Manager of The Virtual Brain Project, says her team is working towards a system that can leverage the power of consumer products, like the Muse headset, to improve brain research and care. "Using information collected with low resolution sensors, similar to those on the Muse headset, The Virtual Brain uses a set of algorithms to produce a unique, realistic and full model of an individual's brain."

    She adds that with every new collection of imaging data, the research team learns more about the structure and function of the brain, bringing them closer to their goal of revolutionizing how clinicians assess and treat various brain disorders.

The defining healthcare issue of our generation

Brain health is likely to remain one of the most pressing socioeconomic issues facing healthcare funders and aging adults over the next 25 years. How we deal with our current dementia epidemic will shape the journey of aging for future decades. Ontario is leading the charge in neuroscience innovations. We have nurtured and imported remarkable research and clinical talent. We have experienced leaders to coordinate the effort through organizations such as the Ontario Brain Institute. And with the strong support of the Ontario and Canadian governments, we have created the Canadian Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation to move brain health solutions out of the research lab and into communities around the world.

About the author: Michael Meagher

Michael is the President and CEO of Cogniciti, the corporation charged with commercializing the brain health science of Baycrest, a global leader in care and research in the field of brain health and aging. He has a degree in Engineering from the University of New Brunswick and an MBA from the University of Toronto, and has lectured at the Ivey School of Business.

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