Dignitaries standing around a self-driving golf cart

University of Waterloo President Feridun Hamdullahpur and His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, meet with student members of the Varden Labs Autonomous Vehicles team on Friday, Oct. 30, following the opening of the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging at Waterloo.

An innovative new facility that will enhance quality of life and care for seniors through collaboration between health-care professionals, researchers, students and educators has opened on the north campus of the University of Waterloo.

The Centre of Excellence for Innovation in Aging is home to the Village at University Gates, a 192-bed long-term care home operated by Schlegel Villages, and a new 30,000-square-foot research facility for the Schlegel-UW Research Institute for Aging (RIA).

The three-storey building houses office space and research labs for Waterloo’s four Schlegel Research Chairs and other researchers working to tangibly advance quality of life for older adults.

In a state-of-the-art research kitchen on the lower level, Heather Keller, professor of kinesiology, will study novel nutrient-dense food products for the aging population.  Upstairs, Richard Hughson, professor of kinesiology, is set to look at how changes in the cardiovascular system with aging, such as stiffer arteries, affect the body's ability to meet the challenges of daily living.

A fully furnished in-lab apartment suite, will provide a test bed for researchers to develop and refine innovative protocols and devices prior to introduction to the community, retirement living and long-term care.

Andrew Laing, professor of kinesiology and a leading expert in safety flooring, will use the new space to study how special floors can maximize impact force reduction during falls, while having minimal effects on balance and mobility during activities of daily living and staff work demands. 

The main floor features classroom and community space, a pharmacy and a medical clinic, which the Centre for Family Medicine Family Health Team will run.

“For the first time in our history, there are more Canadians aged 65 and over than there are under 15 years of age,” said His Excellency the Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, who attended the official opening. “This is our reality, and the quality of care we’re able to provide for aging Canadians will determine not only their well-being, but also what kind of people and what kind of country we are.”

The population of seniors in Ontario is expected to double over the next two decades, and the health-care system is bracing for the need to provide living environments that can meet more complex care needs while enhancing quality of life.

"We have developed a village concept around which a main street and town square exist and function to build community living with neighbourhoods and friendly neighbours,” said Ron Schlegel, founder and chair of Schlegel Villages and the RIA. “It is a social model of active living with life purpose, rather than the traditional institutional model of medical care."

The centre’s design will allow Schlegel Villages’ residents and team members, and community members to work alongside the RIA team, and Waterloo and Conestoga College faculty, researchers and students.

“The physical design of the Centre of Excellence for Innovation in Aging will improve quality of life for older adults,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of Waterloo. “This opening marks the realization of the vision of the Schlegel family and the University of Waterloo to build important infrastructure that is unique in the world and that inspires innovation in research, education and practice.”

Conestoga College will deliver its personal support worker and practical nursing programs on-site within the long-term care environment. Featuring both classroom and clinical teaching in addition to technology-enhanced learning, the integrated programs improve graduate preparedness for working with seniors and develop workforce capacity to meet the changing needs of our community.

“This new centre will be instrumental in the development of innovative training models to prepare future generations of health-care professionals and enhance the quality of life and care for older adults across our community and beyond,” said John Tibbits, president of Conestoga College. “We look forward to working with our partners to address the urgent need for a highly skilled workforce that can address the care needs of our aging population.”

The next phase of the centre, which will include about 200 independent-living apartments, has a target completion of 2020.