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Promoting Social Connectedness Among Older Adults (CONNECT)


Speaker Info:

Dr. Ron Baecker
Emeritus Bell Chair in Human-Computer Interaction, and Founder and Director of the Technologies for Aging Gracefully Lab (TAGlab)
University of Toronto
Dr. Ben Mortenson
Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
University of British Columbia


Social interaction and support are consistently identified as key aspects of older adults’ quality of life. Lack of communication has been shown to lead to isolation/loneliness, which can result in problems such as depression and cognitive decline for older adults. Declining social capacities are linked with declines in physical, cognitive and emotional functions and their associated implications for disease, dependence, and poorer life quality. Researchers have begun to show that social interaction technologies offer both cognitive stimulation and social connection. The limits of current research and commercial products provide a compelling argument to find a way to reach seniors by increasing their social connectedness, reducing their isolation, loneliness and depression and improving their cognitive functioning and overall health. In this presentation, we will outline three areas in which new communication technologies and associated activities can promote social connectedness among older adults. These consist of (1) new communication tools - InTouch, Second Life, Facebook; (2) collaborating and playing - digital social games, collaborative webquests; and (3) knowledge building and sharing - digital storytelling (life histories; family histories), collaborative online information seeking, reading and writing. We also will provide several examples of research to be conducted around these areas.

About the Speakers:

Dr. Baecker is Director of the Technologies for Aging Gracefully Laboratory (TAGlab), Professor of Computer Science, and emeritus Bell Universities Laboratories Chair in Human-Computer Interaction. He is also Affiliate Scientist with the Kunin-Lunenfeld Applied Research Unit of Baycret, Adjunct Scientist with the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute, and founder of both the Dynamic Graphics Project and the Knowledge Media Design Institute at the University of Toronto. He has been named one of the 60 Pioneers of Computer Graphics by ACM SIGGRAPH, has been elected to the CHI (Computers and Human Interaction) Academy by ACM SIGCHI, has been given the Canadian Human Computer Communications Society Achievement Award, has been elected an ACM Fellow, and has been given the GRAND NCE Canadian Digital Media Pioneer Award. His B.Sc., M.Sc., and Ph.D. are from M.I.T. Professor Baecker is an active researcher, lecturer, and consultant on human-computer interaction and user interface design, digital media, computer-supported cooperative work and learning, the Internet, entrepreneurship and strategic planning in the software industry, assistive technology, and technology for seniors. He has published over 300 papers and articles and four books on topics in these areas.


Dr. Ben Mortenson is Assistant Professor in the Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy, UBC. Dr. Mortenson's research focuses on four overlapping areas: assistive technology, social participation, caregiving and outcome measurement. His work is centered on four main populations: assistive technology users, informal and formal caregivers, individuals with spinal cord injury and residents in long-term care. Dr. Mortenson is currently an instructor with the UBC Master of Occupational Therapy Program. Dr. Mortenson is a member of the Canadian Association on Gerontology, the Canadian Society of Occupational Scientists, and the Canadian Association of Occupational Therapists.


Spring 2014 Series Theme:

The topic of the Spring 2014 Coast to Coast seminar series is "Technology for Aging Well" and it is built around a pan-Canadian project titled AGE-WELL (Aging Gracefully across Environments using Technology to Support Wellness, Engagement and Long Life.) The focus of the series will be a discussion how to use technology in helping support the Canadian aging population to ensure that all Canadians can grow older with dignity and grace.

One of the goals of AGE-WELL is to address socio-economic, ethical, and regulatory challenges related to the development and commercialization of technologies for aging. This includes generating new knowledge about the technology needs of older adults and their caregivers and creating and producing high-quality and sustainable health care solutions for older Canadians. Partners in AGE-WELL include the University Health Network, Simon Fraser University, IBM, Phillips Healtcare, and Fraser Health.

Coordinators of the series are Dr. Andrew Sixsmith, Director of the SFU Gerontology Research Centre and a Deputy Director of the IRMACS Centre, and Dr. Alex Mihailidis, the Barbara G. Stymiest Research Chair in Rehabilitation Technology at the University of Toronto and Toronto Rehab Institute.

The speakers in the series will speak from two perspectives:

  • The perspective of researchers that have successfully built and/or are in the process of building advanced technologies such as communications technologies, robotics, mobile networks, and artificial intelligence with aims to encourage increased independence and safety in the home and to support “aging in place”.
  • The perspective of researchers that have extensive experience within the area of health and quality of life of older people and the role of health and social care services.

This seminar series will be of interest to health and social scientists, engineers, and industry who are either carrying out and/or about to embark on development of innovative technology-based solutions that promote independence and healthy aging and optimize health care resource utilization.

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