The Institute is administratively housed in the Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work at the University of Toronto and operates through an executive committee, awards committee, specialization committee, and a general assembly of faculty including 17 degree programs and 12 faculties, 27 departments and over 70 cross-appointed faculty members and more than a dozen research and teaching affiliates. The departments and faculties represented include all of the health faculties as well as music, law, education, and social work.
A Life Course Perspective to more closely resemble the processes of aging
Since its beginnings as a Program in Gerontology (1979-1989), the first of its kind in Canada, the Institute for the Life Course and Aging has provided the University of Toronto with its only interdisciplinary venue for the study of aging. The Institute has three aims as follows:
The first aim of the Institute is to facilitate applied interdisciplinary research on aging from a life course perspective which sets the Institute apart from most existing centres and institutes on aging. Using a bio-psycho-social approach, the Institute focuses on the processes of aging and population aging.
A second aim is to provide graduate education in aging and the life course through two interrelated collaborative specialization options, one in aging and one in palliative care. The specialization is open to students in all faculties who graduate in their own departments with a specialty in aging.
The third aim of the Institute is knowledge transfer which is achieved through research seminars that are open to the public, through an online workshop series on aging for local and national professional communities in Canada and abroad.
A Different Approach
Over time, our education and research focus has evolved according to three principles that sustain our work: the importance of a life course perspective, the need to rethink aging within a less ageist framework and the futility of research and education unless it reaches the hands of those who can improve the care of older adults, including older people themselves.
The Life Course
The life course perspective links the individual and the social structure and captures accumulative advantage/disadvantage over time. The versatility of the life course perspective is its hallmark since it can either be incorporated into existing theories like caregiver stress models or conversely, it can be utilized as a shell-like framework that can host other theories and concepts at macro, meso, and micro levels of analysis. The life course perspective is a framework that more closely resembles human aging and leaves policy-makers, researchers, and practitioners free to choose an approach at each level of analysis depending on the question of interest and the researcher’s proclivities. This perspective enhances collaboration for research and teaching teams.
Ageism, the stereotyping and discrimination against older adults simply because they are old, must be curtailed in education and research. Older adults are generally viewed as frail, sick, poverty stricken, dependent persons with dementia who are a burden on society. At the Institute aging is not just about ‘pathology’, it is a vibrant and positive part of the life course. The Institute obviously recognizes that there are problems with aging just as there are with other age groups. The research and education at the Institute incorporates the idea that older adults are contributing citizens in society like everyone else and can, in many instances, care for themselves with knowledge of appropriate resources and supports. That older adults participate in the Institute like others makes it difficult to maintain stereotypes.
Based on the assumption that knowledge of the core issues of aging can help prevent and solve problems if the information is easy to understand and access, the Institute places evidence-based knowledge in the form of ‘pocket tools’ both paper and digital, in the hands of users – older adults and their families, professionals, policy makers and students. Knowledge mobilization makes sense because it is likely to be cost-efficient, makes use of existing research and can happen at a faster pace then waiting to change the behaviours of whole generations of citizens, students, practitioners and policymakers.
The Institute has a history of research in keeping with these three main principles, and continues to facilitate social science based research based on a life course perspective. Some of our past projects are listed on our website under Research.
The Institute continues to facilitate rather than conduct social science based research by supporting and promoting the current research endeavours of its members, some of which is highlighted under Research on our website here.
Education at the graduate level follows the same principles guiding the Institute. Required and elective courses encompass theory, longitudinal research methods and analysis, how to work in an interdisciplinary framework and to engage in knowledge transfer. The Institute hosts live webcast seminars on emerging topics in gerontology/geriatrics for the university, students and the public. These are archived as are our online workshops on aging that we encourage our students to attend. The series is for practitioners on specific topics they have requested (e.g. technology, law, driving, counseling, ethnicity, pharmacology, dementia). Our graduates are in the top tier of researchers, policy makers and practitioners in Canada.