Commissioned Research

The Canadian Institute on Aging

by Neena L. Chappel | Jul 01, 1999

Key Points

  • The CIA/ICV will support excellence in both investigator-initiated and targeted research.
  • The CIA/ICV will proactively support, facilitate, link and focus research on health and health care relevant to the quality-of-life for Canadians as they age.
  • The CIA/ICV will advance knowledge to promote healthy aging of Canadians and to provide effective and efficient care for those in need.
  • The CIA/ICV will play a proactive role in facilitating the formulation of research directions, bringing together teams of researchers across disciplines and geographical regions, fostering communication within and between stakeholders and researchers, building partnerships across sectors, and ensuring that research knowledge is used to advance the quality-of-life of Canadians.
  • The CIA/ICV will be organized with two foci: health and health care/illness, because it is critically important that as we enter the new millennium with ever increasing proportions of the population reaching old age, that healthy aging for Canadians be a priority, and that the illness experienced by many older Canadians be addressed in the context of quality-of-life.
  • The CIA/ICV will engage in capacity-building activities for new and established researchers since aging research has never been provided with the levels of funding required to develop adequate human resources.
  • The CIA/ICV will involve stakeholders in key decision-making activities within the Institute.
  • The CIA/ICV will maintain databases of research and researchers in aging in Canada to allow the Institute to respond to high priority requests for information in a timely fashion as well as allow the Institute to draw together experts across regions and disciplines for the development of specific targeted activities.
  • In all operations, the CIA/ICV will play an integrative role: fostering input and active involvement from all relevant parties (researchers and stakeholders), encouraging research from all disciplinary perspectives (basic biomedical; applied clinical; society, culture and population health; and health related services and systems), as well as nurturing research that combines several perspectives.
  • The CIA/ICV will be the mechanism to bring coherence, nationally, ensuring both the advance and the use of knowledge relevant to the quality of life of Canadians as they age.

Executive Summary

The CIA/ICV is proposed as a mechanism to support, facilitate, link and focus research on health and health care relevant to the quality-of-life for Canadians as they age. The mission of the Institute is the advancement of knowledge to promote healthy aging of Canadians and to provide effective and efficient care for those in need. The Institute will pursue this mission by playing a proactive role in facilitating the formulation of research directions, bringing together teams of researchers across disciplines and geographical regions, fostering communication within and between stakeholders and researchers, and ensuring that research knowledge is used to advance the quality-of-life of Canadians. It will bring coherence to a currently dispersed effort among researchers and stakeholders, among governments, and among communities. It will support and crystallize existing efforts to build a stronger and more relevant research enterprise.

The Institute will support excellence in traditional research and capacity-building programs. All program activities will be organized with a dual focus: health and health care/illness. This dual focus has not typically been promoted by health research agencies but is particularly relevant to the area of aging. Healthy aging is an achievable and worthwhile goal that cannot be defined only as the absence of disease. It is critically important, as we enter the new millennium with ever increasing proportions of the population reaching old age, that healthy aging for Canadians be a priority. However, the prevalence of illness, and often multiple illnesses, in older adults cannot be ignored and must be addressed within the context of enhancing quality-of-life for those with illness and in need of care. The CIA/ICV organizational structure allows for research on the process of aging (e.g., biological mechanisms of aging; the meaning of aging), as well as research relating to specific disorders or care practices (e.g., arthritis; home care).

The Institute will support both investigator-initiated and targeted research, with substantial proportions allocated to the latter. Traditional individual investigator-initiated projects and integrated projects brought forward by investigators from a number of disciplines to address a single topic will be facilitated. At least in the transitional phase, these submissions would undergo peer review outside the Institute through the overall CIHR review committees. Targeted research will address identified areas of priority. The Institute would play a proactive role in bringing together people from various backgrounds to identify priority areas and would bring together experts from various disciplines to address the questions at hand. The Institute would also coordinate a national longitudinal dataset emerging from such consultations. The peer review for these projects is likely to be international and organized by the Institute.

The capacity-building activities of the Institute are essential and fundamental since, despite an awareness of the relevance of aging research in the 1970s, aging research has never been viewed as a substantive area with associated levels of funding or growth in human resources. As a result, there is a need to build capacity across all disciplines with emphasis in a variety of areas from basic sciences (e.g., cellular aging) through to the social sciences (e.g., humanities) and policy. Support will be provided through the traditional mechanisms of student and new investigator competitions. In addition, salary support, endowed chairs, and opportunities for upgrading of skills or re-training will be available for established investigators.

Databases of research and researchers in aging in Canada will be maintained to allow the Institute to respond to high priority requests for information in a timely fashion, and to allow the Institute to draw together experts across regions and disciplines for the development of specific targeted activities. A liaison function of the Institute would maintain close ongoing relations with relevant federal and provincial government agencies, stakeholders, researchers and members of the public and ensure the dissemination of research findings to and through these avenues.

Stakeholders (e.g., government policy makers, spokespersons from community-based not-for-profit agencies working with seniors, formal and informal providers of care to seniors, and Canadian seniors) will be involved in key decision-making bodies within the Institute. Stakeholders will constitute one third of the Institute Advisory Board. Scientists from each of the four cross-cutting CIHR themes (i.e., basic biomedical, applied clinical, health service/system, social and cultural aspects of population health) make up the remainder of the Board. Stakeholders will also be involved in forums that identify gaps in knowledge. These identified areas will be targeted for research activity.

The Institute will have a Scientific Director who, in the transitional phase, will probably be housed in Ottawa with a core secretariat. The Scientific Director will be critical in creating an intellectual home for scientists and stakeholders alike, establishing ongoing liaisons with government offices and stakeholder organizations, and building and negotiating partnerships. It is essential that the CIA/ICV build on and support the large but still disparate groups of aging-relevant researchers and other communities that currently exist in Canada. The secretariat will be involved in three key aspects of the Institute’s operation: supplying public information, database development (e.g., up-to-date information on research activities in Canada, liaison with other data sources, compilation of longitudinal databases), and program development and management. The secretariat would form the “institutional memory” essential to the level of responsiveness and integration envisaged for the Institute and would remain in Ottawa after the transitional phase. Once the Institute is established, the Director could be housed, with a small support staff, in a host institution (e.g., university) anywhere in Canada.

In all operations, the Institute will play an integrative role: fostering input and active involvement from all parties concerned, encouraging research from all disciplinary perspectives, and nurturing research that combines several perspectives. It is an absolute necessity that aging be studied in the integrative context supported by the CIHR. Aging, long ignored as a substantive area, cuts across most other areas of health research and by its nature is an exemplar of the CIHR philosophy. The focus of the Institute on the enhancement of health and ways to mitigate the ravages of illness is essential to ensuring quality-of-life for all Canadians as they age.