McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

McMaster receives $10M gift to promote healthy aging

Published: September 7, 2012
Suzanne Labarge
Suzanne Labarge has given a gift of $10 million to McMaster for a program sponsoring interdisciplinary research and a website portal on healthy agin.

McMaster University has been given the resources for a major initiative to promote healthy aging and to make that knowledge widely available.

Businesswoman and McMaster graduate Suzanne Labarge has given $10 million to McMaster for a program sponsoring interdisciplinary research and a website portal on healthy aging that will provide accessible information for the public as well as health care professionals, researchers and policy makers. The program is called the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative.   

"Aging is a huge issue for this society, and it needs to be addressed," said Suzanne Labarge. "I’m confident McMaster, with its multidisciplinary approach and focus on evidence-based medicine, is the best place to pull it all together and advance both the knowledge and the response to the needs of our aging population."

The initiative was announced at the University today.  

"All of her life Suzanne Labarge has been a visionary leader, both in the business world and as an alumna and friend of McMaster," said Patrick Deane, president of the university. "Her gift allows us to marshal our resources in this area and to advance our approaches in order to significantly improve and promote healthy aging within our society."

The Labarge Optimal Aging Opportunities Fund will provide seed funding for research aimed at maximizing mobility, slowing chronic disease and tackling deadly infections. The first set of new McMaster research projects in these areas will include several researchers of the Faculty of Health Sciences.

  • Brenda Vrkljan, associate professor, occupational therapy, and Robert Fleisig, assistant professor of engineering, are working together to investigate better vehicle designs for older drivers and passengers in order to find ways to allow seniors to continue to drive safely;
  • Physiotherapist and professor Julie Richardson and occupational therapist and associate professor Lori Letts, both of the School of Rehabilitation Science, are working with family doctors to do early disability assessments in order to teach seniors how to avoid falls and maintain their mobility;
  • Kinesiologist and associate professor Gianni Parise is developing guidelines to help seniors sustain muscle strength, stay active and fight off chronic disease by examining how exercise, nutrition and age impact the reduced lean muscle mass that occurs with age;
  • Monica Maly, a physiotherapist and assistant professor of rehabilitation science, is looking into how yoga can help older women with arthritis strengthen leg muscles, improve mobility and reduce pain;
  • Sonia Anand, a physician and professor of medicine, has already proven that a diet high in fruits and vegetables can turn off the gene responsible for heart disease. She is now setting up an intervention study will look at how both groups of senior and ‘non-senior’ adults respond to dietary changes;
  • Associate professor of nursing Maureen Markle-Reid is conducting a study on the effectiveness of a nurse-led education and a self-management program on risk factors for chronic disease for older adults with diabetes;
  • Dawn Bowdish, an assistant professor of pathology and molecular medicine, and her clinical and basic science collaborators have turned their minds to the effectiveness of seniors eating probiotics to protect them from respiratory infections which are among the top five causes of death in older people.

"The Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative will allow prominent researchers at McMaster to focus their research more closely on the aging population," said Susan Denburg, associate vice-president, academic for the Faculty of Health Sciences and university lead for the initiative.  "The gift will seed multiple research projects focusing on areas of relevance to seniors, creating incubators for interdisciplinary innovation."

The McMaster Optimal Aging Portal, available through a website, will provide a unique, one-stop information source with a wide array of information and tools to answer the many questions about healthy aging from Canadians, health care providers and policy makers.

"This web-based portal is intended to become Canada’s authoritative voice on aging, by communicating continually updated, evidence-based information," said Denburg.

All information on the user-friendly portal will be vetted by subject experts and evaluated for quality; and the user will also be linked to related resources and services relevant to their inquiry. 

In addition to the website, the project will engage the key audiences through public talks, forums and media outreach.

Suzanne Labarge received a BA in economics from McMaster in 1967 and a MBA from Harvard University in 1971. She worked for the Royal Bank for 14 years before spending a decade with the federal government in several senior positions, including deputy superintendent of financial institutions. She returned to executive positions in RBC, retiring as its vice-chairman and chief risk officer in 2004.

Her earlier gifts to McMaster have included an endowment to establish the Raymond and Margaret Labarge Chair in Research and Knowledge Application for Optimal Aging, named in tribute to her parents who were involved in both quality education and aging issues.

In the News


Susan Denburg, associate vice-president, academic for the Faculty of Health Sciences, is interviewed about the Labarge Optimal Aging Initiative on the The Locker Room with Anthony Urciuoli (AM900 CHML).

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