July 12, 2011

CANADA: Research seeks cold facts on how winter affects elderly

TORONTO, Ontario / The Globe and Mail / National / Time To Lead / July 11, 2011

Researcher Yue Li, a biomedical engineer, right, and her research assistant, U of T masters student, Oliver Chung, in the cold room, demonstrate the set-up they use to study the effects of the cold on the health of elderly patients at the Toronto Rehab Hospital, July 8.

By Karen Howlett

Canada’s largest rehabilitation centre is putting the finishing touches on a lab capable of measuring how the worst winter conditions – sub-zero temperatures, icy sidewalks, snow and winds up to 30 kilometres an hour – affect the elderly.

The WinterLab, which will be up and running in November, will help researchers at Toronto Rehabilitation Institute develop new clothing, footwear and mobility aids to help seniors cope better with cold weather, a season that typically leads to a spike in deaths for those with chronic health conditions.

The research at Toronto Rehab is oriented toward finding alternatives to warehousing patients in acute-care hospital beds so they can live independently and safely in the community for as long as possible, said Mark Rochon, chief executive officer of Toronto Rehab.

“That’s where we all want to be,” he said.

Acute-care beds are not designed to serve the needs of people who no longer require medical intervention. As a result, they end up deteriorating mentally, emotionally and physically very rapidly, said David Walker, a professor of emergency medicine at Queen’s University and head of an Ontario government committee examining the challenges of providing care to seniors.

“Our health system is designed for what was in the past rather than what’s coming in the future,” Dr. Walker said. “We are a little behind the times.”.....

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