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‘Silver Economy’ offers business opportunities, SFU aging expert says





SFU gerontology professor Andrew Sixsmith is scientific director of AGE-WELL.


PROVINCE

Scientists using digital games to help seniors stay socially connected were happy to see immediate results when they organized a Wii bowling tournament at 14 senior centres across Canada.

Not only were the participants connecting with each other for the weekly virtual games broadcast but “massive numbers of people would come out every week to cheer them on,” said SFU gerontology Prof. David Kaufman.

“It helps bring people together,” he said.

Using technology to help improve the lives of Canada’s aging population is the theme of the AGE-WELL2018 conference in Vancouver on Tuesday through Thursday.

AGE-WELL is a national network of centres of excellence researching how technology can increase the physical, cognitive and emotional well-being of seniors.

“There are two priorities: Great science and real-world impact,” said SFU gerontology Prof. Andrew Sixsmith, scientific director of AGE-WELL. “We want to create things that will have social benefits.”

Some of the products and services being showcased at the three-day conference include self-driving wheelchairs and a Geek Squad-style IT network to help seniors develop computer skills so they can access services and information online.

Canada’s aging baby boomers are generally more tech-savvy and have more money than their parents did, which is setting the stage for business opportunities in the “silver economy,” said Sixsmith.

“There are lots of opportunities for Canadian businesses to tap into that market,” especially in the areas of health and wellness and financial management and services.

But he said there is a “digital divide” among seniors between those with online accessibility and those without, especially those in rural areas or with low incomes.

“The federal government should be doing more to ensure equal access,” he said.

Kaufman’s research around digital games for seniors shows that compared to the individualistic shooting games popular with younger people, seniors prefer slow-paced action based on board games they are familiar with that is also tied to gaining knowledge.

For instance, a digital tic-tac-toe game requires players to answer a question based on a theme such as nutrition or making a will before they can put down an X, he said.

He said that helps provide cognitive benefits for the seniors.

Digital storytelling has also proved popular.

Workshops are held in seniors homes to train seniors how to put together their life stories on video using photos, audio and text, and then invite their families and friends to a showing.

“They’re leaving a legacy that’s more than just money or a house,” said Kaufman.

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