In the face of COVID-19, CABHI’s annual conference went virtual
When Len Carter, from Cambridge, Ont., heard that the Centre for Aging and Brain Health Innovation’s (CABHI) annual What’s Next Canada aging and brain health conference might be canceled, he was devastated.
CABHI, which is spearheaded by Baycrest, is a collaboration of health-care, science, industry, government and not-for-profit partners who aim to increase quality of life for older adults through innovation. Its annual conference features keynote speakers, engaging panel discussions, and presentations on the latest developments, research and improvements in aging and brain health today. Carter, who is living with dementia and is an active member of Dementia Advocacy Canada, was scheduled to present at the event as part of the Lived Experience Panel.
“I was really quite excited to speak about dementia myths and stigma, and when I heard it might be canceled, I was depressed as hell,” he says.
The conference, which was scheduled to be held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre on March 11, was in limbo because of the growing spread of COVID-19. Hosting an in-person event could put participants and attendees at-risk.
“The health and safety of all presenters and attendees, and Baycrest patients and residents, who are a particularly vulnerable population, is of paramount priority,” said CABHI’s Managing Director, Dr. Allison Sekuler, in a press release.
With recommendations from the Toronto Region COVID-19 Healthcare Human Resources Working Group, the World Health Organization and the Centre for Disease Control, CABHI made a quick decision to host the conference virtually instead — an update that was good news to Carter.
“Magically, they decided to do it as a Zoom meeting,” he says.
With two days’ notice, CABHI lined up 43 speakers and offered nine hours’ worth of online programming to more than 100 attendees. Speakers, including researchers, entrepreneurs, older adults and people living with dementia, participated in a variety of panels covering diverse topics such as technology and global partnerships on aging. The Lived Experience Panel, which featured Carter and fellow advocate Ron Posno, who is also living with dementia, as well as members of CABHI’s Seniors Advisory Panel, explored how innovators can learn from users by inviting them to participate in the innovation process.
Carter says using technology was actually easier than an in-person presentation for participants on his panel.
“All of the participants on the panel felt much more comfortable on a video chat like Zoom than they might have been sitting in front of 300-plus people,” he says. “We were able to have a really clear conversation.”
CABHI’s quick pivot to hosting a virtual conference allowed the conversation around living well with dementia to continue — something Carter was grateful for.
“It was a great opportunity for me to express my concerns about dementia stigma,” he says. “I was able to tell a large group of people how devastating it is. If everybody understood what this thing is and weren’t so afraid of it, we could all live much more normal lives.” [ ]