Gerontology is the scientific study of AGING and its consequences including psychological, biological, and social changes confronting individuals, the social and economic issues created by growing numbers of older people in a population, and the opportunities older age brings with it.
Systematic Canadian research began in 1944 with the founding of the Gerontologic Research Unit at McGill University. During the 1950s the Canadian Welfare Council formed the Committee on Aging, which began research in social gerontology. The Ontario Geriatrics Research Society (1955) became the Canadian Geriatrics Research Society in 1975 but wound down operations in 1990.
Research was stimulated by provincial conferences on aging held in several provinces beginning in 1957 and continued through the early 1960s. In 1966 the final report of the Senate's Special Committee on Aging was published, the first provincial office (Ontario) on aging was created and the Canadian Conference on Aging was held. Increasing participation of Canadian gerontologists in international gerontology associations led to the establishment of the Canadian Association on Gerontology/Association Canadienne de gérontologie (CAG/ACG) in 1971. It was originally organized into five divisions representing the social sciences, psychology, health sciences and social policy/social welfare. The CAG/ACG is the major forum for gerontological research in Canada through annual conferences, a newsletter and a scientific journal established in 1982, The Canadian Journal on Aging/La Revue canadienne du vieillissement.
In the 1980s, two other organizations were founded, the Canadian Society of Geriatric Medicine (1981) and the Canadian Gerontological Nursing Association (1984). The McGill Centre for Studies in Aging (MCSA) was originally established in 1985 to focus on research, teaching and the prevention of age-associated disorders; today the centre is also studying the degeneration and aging of the central nervous system and neurodegenerative diseases including Alzheimer and Parkinson's diseases. Many other organizations exist nationally or regionally with aims in gerontology research, practice or education.
From the late 1970s until the mid-1980s, extensive support was provided for research and research training on "population aging" by the Strategic Grants Program of the SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES RESEARCH COUNCIL OF CANADA (SSHRC). This included support for new research centres including the Gerontology Research Centre at Simon Fraser University, the Centre on Aging at the University of Manitoba, the Institute for Life Course and Aging at the University of Toronto, and centres in Guelph and Moncton. These centres continue and many other gerontology centres have been established from Victoria in the west to St John's in the east.
While SSHRC and the NATURAL SCIENCES AND ENGINEERING RESEARCH COUNCIL (NSERC) continue to support research on aging, a high watermark came in 2000 when the CANADIAN INSTITUTES OF HEALTH RESEARCH replaced the Medical Research Council of Canada and the Institute of Aging was established as one of the founding institutes. The importance of the aging of Canada's population was also a prominent theme of the Romanow Royal Commission - Building on Values: The Future of Health Care in Canada (2002). The commission's recommendations have been a focus of the Senate Committee on Social Affairs, Science and Technology.
The need for research in gerontology has been most evident in relation to the economic aspects of population aging, especially PENSIONS policy and because older people use health services more extensively than other segments of the population. Because age is a major basis on which we establish rights and obligations as well as informal expectations for behaviour, population aging will necessitate the adaptation of many social institutions, from the design of cities and transportation systems to reforms in FAMILY LAW and retirement systems.
The Canadian population is aging; almost 14% of the population is 65 or older. Estimates indicate that by 2020, more than one in five Canadians will be over 65. The expectation of a long life challenges the old and the young with whom they share familial and social relations. For these reasons, general interest in aging and research in gerontology will be a prominent concern of Canadian society as the baby boomers of the 20th century become the older population of the 21st century.