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  • Ten Years of the CIHR Institute of Aging:Building on Strengths, Addressing Gaps, Shaping the Future
  • Anne Martin-Matthews

It is now 10 years since the establishment of the Institute of Aging (IA), one of 13 national institutes of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Canada's leading health research funding agency. With a mission to advance knowledge in aging to improve the quality of life and the health of older Canadians, the IA has transformed the landscape of Canadian research on aging over the past decade. This anniversary is an appropriate time to revisit the vision that led to the development of Canada's national Institute of Aging, and to consider not only what has been achieved, but also what challenges and opportunities remain in building and enabling research on aging in Canada.

Over a decade ago, the need for strategic leadership and for the establishment of a unifying centre for Canada's diverse research community in aging was well recognized. Historically a small community, researchers in aging worked largely in isolation within single disciplines, often disconnected from related work being done on their own campuses, and even moreso from that undertaken across the country. In 2000, a group of Canadian researchers in aging presented, to the Interim Governing Council overseeing the creation of CIHR, 1 a case for the development of a Canadian Institute on Aging (Chappell et al., 2000).

The Institute was 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. Healthy aging for Canadians would be a research priority, and the illness experienced by many older Canadians would be addressed within the context of quality of life. In reviewing this document, it is clear that the CIHR Institute of Aging has indeed realized the vision set out for it more than a decade ago.

Building Strength

Over the course of 10 years, two strategic plans, It's Time for Research on Aging (2002-2007) and The Future is Aging (2007-2012), have guided the development of strategic initiatives and priority setting for the IA. The creation of two peer review committees at CIHR [End Page 285] dedicated to aging, the Biological and Clinical Aspects of Aging (BCA) and the Social Dimensions of Aging (SDA), have been catalytic in giving a focus to research on aging across its full spectrum from biomedical, to clinical, to health services and population health.

At the same time, the percentage of total CIHR expenditures directed towards research on aging has grown - from six per cent of a $370 million CIHR budget in 2000-2001 to 14 per cent of the $984 million budget in 2009-2010. This amounted to more than $122 million of research on aging funded by CIHR in 2010. The number of investigators working in aging has grown, and increased strength is evident across the biomedical, clinical, health services, and population health research domains.

Over this period, as well, the Institute has identified and addressed three unique needs in research on aging: (a) a national longitudinal data platform, (b) greater research capacity, and (c) advancement of science in two key areas: cognitive impairment in aging, and mobility in aging. These two areas were identified as strategic funding priorities for the IA following extensive consultations with relevant research and stakeholder communities across the country.

The Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging (CLSA), launched in 2009 and designed to span 20 years of research with 50,000 participants, holds tremendous potential for transforming research on aging in Canada ( The development history of the CLSA, and the important findings from its foundational pilot studies, are documented and described in a special issue of the Canadian Journal on Aging published in 2009, with one article elaborating CIHR's role and the priority given to this initiative on the national research agenda (Martin-Matthews & Mealing, 2009). Although as yet in its early (and crucial) days of recruiting participants and establishing 11 state-of-the-art data collection centres across the country, the CLSA has already been recognized, according to the Canada Foundation for Innovation (2009), as

a significant research endeavour...


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pp. 285-290
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