Sheridan College researcher digs deep into effects of aging population

An aging population will provide all sorts of business opportunities over the next few years – from special dance and fitness clubs to senior-friendly supermarkets, says the director of Sheridan College’s elder research centre.

“I don’t think there’s any business that’s not impacted,” SERC director Patricia Spadafora told YourMississaugaBiz.com from the college’s Oakville campus on Trafalgar Road. “A lot of businesses we’ve spoken to have told us ‘I had no idea this would affect my business so much.’”

After nearly 10 years of research on older Canadians, the center has found the effects of older adults will significantly impact areas like real estate, travel and dietary needs, not just homecare products or requests for more retirement living spaces.

“A significant number of older adults want to stay independent and continue to live at home,” Spadafora said, referencing the growing popularity of walk-in baths and safety bar installations. “So I expect an increase in demand for home-care services and home retrofits.”

A rising number of older Canadian immigrants will also grow the need for ethno-specific long-term care facilities, like the Yee Hong Centre for Geriatric Care’s Mississauga location on Mavis Road.

SERC’s research has also shown involvement in physical activities like dance and regular exercise can lower general healthcare costs. “Lower number of medications, reduced visits to the doctor’s office,” Spadafora said. “We really believe what we do could have significant impacts on the healthcare system.”

There’s also an opportunity for specialists in the fitness industry.  “Older adults have the lowest exercise rates of all cohorts and there’s also an increase in obesity,” Spadafora said. “So that could be a really good career to go into.”

Increasing participation in activities like the creative and performing arts will also have a wider implication on healthcare costs. SERC’s research showed, for example, the backward steps in tango also helped some Parkinson’s patients with gait.

And Spadafora said some of the centre’s research around dance has showed significant gains in terms of elevating mood, preventing falls and increasing balance. “Then you could argue that could reduce falls,” she said, citing falls being the leading cause of acute care for older adults. “So you keep people out of emergency rooms.”

Businesses who target older Canadians may also increase their appeal to the general public.

Spadafora cited the success of the “senior-friendly” Kaiser supermarkets in Germany, which feature large-print signs, better lighting, more single-serving food products, magnifying glasses for reading small print labels and carts with seats on the side. “So that if an older person gets tired they can sit,” she said. “But if you’re a mum with toddlers and you’re tired you can use it too. It benefits everyone.”

With all of these findings, SERC recently created an information exchange network around the business of aging. The network highlights opportunities for local small and medium-sized businesses through a members-only LinkedIn group and quarterly breakfast meetings.

The next event will feature Pointerware Innovations Ltd. CEO Raul Rusingh and Jibestream Interactive Media CEO Chris Wiegand with a focus on how technologies can support aging for older adults. It will take place on April 24 at Sheridan’s Oakville campus.

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