Institute for Life Course and Aging

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The Institute is a multidisciplinary research and education centre in the Faculty of Medicine. It focuses on the social, psychological, environmental aspects and well-being of individual aging as well as implications for population aging. It also delivers a collaborative program in aging and palliative care involving 17 departments and faculties.

The institute has changed names and evolved over the last 32 years. In 1979, the University of Toronto established a programme in Gerontology which was the first multidisciplinary centre for research and education in aging in a Canadian University. The programme grew out of an initiative by Dr John Evans, who in the light of the changing demographics, felt that there should be a unit that brought together faculty interested in the study of adult aging and which would foster research and education in the area. He received a grant from the Hannah Foundation of $150,000 per annum for four years.

Initially the then Vice Provost [Health Sciences] advertised for a Coordinator of Gerontology. Dr Blossom Wigdor of McGill University contacted the Vice Provost and indicated that she felt that “Coordination” was not likely to be productive, and suggested a Centre that would focus on research and education. This was eventfully accepted by the Search Committee, and after due process Dr Wigdor was invited to come to the University of Toronto as the Founding Director of the Programme

Dr Wigdor was a psychologist with a national and international reputation in the field of cognition and aging. She was appointed as Professor in the Department of Psychology and cross-appointed to the Department of Behavioural Sciences.

On arrival July 01, 1979, Dr Wigdor found a significant number of researchers working in the area of aging. The Programme provided them with a focus to meet, to exchange ideas and collaborate. The Programme organized a series of seminars and established the Diploma Course in Gerontology which was delivered through Woodsworth College. This was a graduate level Diploma whose goal was to “train the trainers”. It could be taken on a part time basis and required usually a minimum of two years. It was highly successful but was phased out in 2002 since there was less demand, as a result of training becoming available in various disciplines.

After the first four years of funding from the Hannah Foundation, the Programme received grants for the following six years from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, under its new strategic grants programme which included population aging. Thereafter, funding was assumed by the University. The Programme had been reporting to the Vice Provost (Health Sciences). However, in 1989 it was transferred to the School of Graduate Studies and became the Centre for Studies on Aging.

Dr.Wigdor retired in 1990 and was succeeded by Dr Victor Marshall, a well known Sociologist/Gerontologist. The Centre continued to flourish and in the mid-1990’s under some pressure from the Vice President (Research), it became the Institute for Human Development, Life Course and Aging. In 1990 it had been awarded a 5-year grant as a Centre of Excellence by the Federal government, the only social science programme to be so recognized.

After Dr Marshall left in 1998 there was a period of time under diverse leadership when the focus was not strictly on aging. However, in 2004, Dr Lynn McDonald was named Director, and the Institute again focused on aging, becoming the Institute for Life Course and Aging. With recent changes in the School of Graduate Studies, the Institute was moved to the Faculty of Medicine.

The exciting potential of multidisciplinary units has not always been supported as there has been constantly a conflict with the cognate disciplines. In spite of this, the Institute has been most productive and has influenced the development of courses in aging in many of the cognate disciplines. It has served as a prototype for the development of other centres on aging at Universities across Canada, and continues to be leader in both research and education. BTW


The Institute maintains affiliation with various organizations, including the Canadian Association on Gerontology, International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, Ontario Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and Connecting Seniors of Canada.