Championing health research for older women during COVID-19 and beyond

In March 2021, Women’s College Health Research (WCHR) – Women’s College Hospital’s largest donor – made an extraordinary $800,000 gift to support world-leading innovation in virtual care, the hospital’s COVID-19 relief efforts and to advance important research focused on identifying evidence-based solution that improve the lives of women as they age.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed many gaps in healthcare that need to be brought to the forefront – one of them being the need for better support for older women,” says Jocelyn Palm, WCHR board member and long-time member of WCH’s Association of Volunteers. “We know that about 93 per cent of older adults in Canada still live at home in the community, and we need to know how best to support them as they age, especially during the pandemic. That’s the work we’re hoping to support with this gift.”

By 2026, Canada will be a “super-aged” society, meaning that more than 20 per cent of the population is estimated to be 65 years and older. The majority of older adults in Canada are women. Even though the years beyond retirement-age can be some of the most meaninguful, our healthcare system and society are not always geared towards recognizing the unique needs of women in this age group and providing them with tailored support. 

But health research currently doesn’t reflect this profound demographic shift and COVID-19 has further highlighted gaps in our ability to care for older adults. Research is needed to investigate little-understood issues of how best to use therapies to optimize their health, to address loneliness in older adults, and to improve the care provided to those who need it. More research that considers key identitfy factors such as sex and age when tracking and reporting on COVID-19 (and many other health conditions) is also needed to ensure that older women continue to live healthy, fulfilling and connected lives at home as they age.

To confront these issues, Dr. Paula Rochon, Senior Scientist, Women’s College Research Institute (WCRI), RTO/ERO Chair in Geriatric Medicine and Professor at the University of Toronto, and her research team – through work led by geriatricians, clinicians and epidemiologists – are tackling important questions aimed at empowering providers and policymakers across Canada with the evidence-based research needed to better manage the health and well-being of older women.

Based on their expertise, the team partnered with the Retired Teachers of Ontario (RTO/ERO) to develop a list of suggestions on how to stay socially connected and designed a study to allow older Canadian adults to express how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected them. The team also put together a carefully curated list of resources designed to provide guidance and assistance to caregivers during this very stressful and uncertain time.

With continued support from generous donors like Women’s College Health Research, Dr. Rochon and her team can continue to ask important questions and seek answers that will support the unique needs of Canada’s aging population now, and well into the future.

“Women’s College Hospital has always been there to address important issues and advocate for those who need it,” says Jocelyn. “That’s why WCHR is proud to step forward with early investments into the hospital’s most promising virtual care inititiaves, and to support research that will have far-reaching impact.”

We extend our deepest gratitude to Women’s College Health Research for their enduring support and continued investment in the healthcare revolution. Thank you!