MRU chair focuses on unique needs of aging population

Innovation key to improving care for older adults

Peter GlennMount Royal University | Posted: September 20, 2022

Jocelyn Rempel

The last year was a busy one for Jocelyn Rempel as she took part in a curriculum review for MRU’s nursing program with an eye to incorporating a more gerontological focus for students.

Mount Royal University’s chair in Older Adult Health is more aware than ever of the challenges and opportunities for the University in focusing on this growing segment of the population.

Jocelyn Rempel, a registered nurse, consultant and MRU faculty member who ran her own business for ten years, is putting those entrepreneurial skills to work as she explores and drives a myriad of ideas and programs to help some of our most vulnerable friends, neighbours and family members. The chair position is being funded by the Riddell Family Charitable Foundation.

The last year was a busy one for Rempel as she took part in a curriculum review for MRU’s nursing program with an eye to incorporating a more gerontological focus for students. She also held an Age-Inclusive Symposium that looked primarily at ageism, an issue participants told her they definitely face and something the University should focus on. It’s a topic that flared up recently with the controversial departure of longtime news anchor Lisa LaFlamme from CTV National News.

“I’m hoping to do it again next year and hold another event that extends beyond our faculty and students to the broader community,” Rempel says. She is currently organizing an Intergenerational Speakers Series with four events throughout the year as a way to make the MRU campus more inclusive and age-friendly. The first of these takes place Sept. 28 and is titled Reconciliation: What does it mean for you? It will feature former mayor and MRU associate professor Naheed Nenshi and Tim Fox from the Calgary Foundation as keynote speakers. Future events will focus on connecting through film and conversation, moving through challenging times, and framing our memories.

“Our aging population presents challenges and opportunities in health care. We're proud to have established this chair at MRU and are benefiting from Jocelyn's experience and many initiatives in this area,” says Dr. Stephen Price, PhD, dean of the Faculty of Health, Community and Education.

“Jocelyn brings a passion regarding the issues that we all face as we age. Her work is helping to increase the support and care and strengthen the relationships each of us have with growing wiser."

Age is a combination of factors

Rempel says she enjoys assessing new initiatives she believes will provide the most impact for the aging population.The complexity is often not understood. The combination of age-related changes, chronic disease, dementia, cognitive changes, falls, psychosocial shifts and multiple medications, create scenarios that require very skilled health-care providers to navigate.

“Caring for aging people requires time and relational care, which they often do not receive during brief interactions within the health system,” Rempel emphasizes.

“Old age” is difficult to define and can be a very elusive concept. Aging and health are not always directly correlated. Understanding aging requires going beyond chronological age and recognizing that functional and biological age may be a more accurate representation of the person. For example, there are some 95-year-olds who can run marathons, so their functional and biological age would be much different than a 55-year-old who has experienced several chronic health conditions or obstacles in their life. This diversity is extremely important to understand, especially in health care, Rempel says.

How can technology help?

Age tech is another growing area that Rempel is focusing on, looking at technological solutions and innovation to help with the aging population.

Two seniors cycling at a park.

Caring for aging people requires time and relational care, which they often do not receive during brief interactions within the health system.

With more people reaching old age and already a shortage of long-term care, how can smart technology allow them to stay in their home, aging in place longer, for example? Or could virtual reality be of comfort to people suffering from dementia by “taking them back” to familiar locations from their past? (The latter idea came from a retired architect Rempel met who is considering just such applications.)

“I’m involved in research that includes innovation technologies (age-tech), as a way to improve quality of life and quality of care for aging adults,” she says. “Age tech will become more common and a necessity to address an aging population. We will be able to focus more on preventative care rather than reactive care. I’m currently looking at creative ideas to involve multidisciplinary collaboration at Mount Royal University with a goal to have students solve current issues in this exciting area.

“We often say older people don’t know how to use technology, but I don't think that’s true. I believe technology can be accessible to anyone regardless of age, especially if they’re included in the design process.”

As she looks to innovate in the space of aging health, Rempel reaches for those entrepreneurial skills to advocate for a demographic in need of updated policy and ideological change.

Sign up for Reconciliation: What does it mean for you? on Sept. 28. Read more about MRU’s School of Nursing and Midwifery.