Dr. Priddle and the History of Geriatrics in Canada

The following is an excerpt from “History of Geriatrics in Canada” by David B. Hogan, Canadian Bulletin of Medical History / Volume 24:1 2007 / p. 131-150

History of Geriatrics in Canada

During the first half of the 20th century there was little apparent interest about aging in Canada. Newspapers rarely mentioned either gerontology or geriatrics, and only a handful of articles appeared in Canadian medical journals during this time. A persistent sentiment in Canadian medicine was that geriatrics should be integrated within established fields of practice.

Two specialists affiliated with the Rehabilitation Institute of Montreal, E. David Sherman (1908-84) and Gustave Gingras (1918-96), played important roles in Canadian geriatrics, with Sherman serving as President of the AGS. In 1962 the CMA had established a Standing Committee on Aging, which Sherman chaired from 1963 to 1967. Sherman had reservations about recognizing geriatrics as a specialty and in 1971 he stated, “Whether geriatrics should eventually become a medical specialty like paediatrics remains a controversial issue.” By 1984 he agreed that a limited number of “regional consultants and full-time geriatricians are urgently required as advisors and policy-makers” and felt that “every physician (internists in particular) should nowadays possess a solid foundation” in the care of older patients.

Gingras called geriatrics “the socioeconomic problem of the end of this [20th] century” and provided critical support behind the scenes to the field’s development. During the Sherman and Gingras eras, physicians interested in rehabilitation and aging often joined forces. For example, the CMA Committee on Rehabilitation (chaired by Gingras) and Committee on Aging (chaired by Sherman) held a joint meeting in 1964. Other rehabilitation specialists such as Brock Fahrni and Talamge Hunt aided in the development of Canadian geriatrics.

According to the Ontario Homes for the Aged Act (1949) every municipality in the province was to maintain a home for the aged. This led to a building and renovation program across the province. In 1953 William W. Priddle was appointed Consultant in Geriatrics to the provincial Department of Welfare to aid in the development of a medical service for these homes. Priddle began “attempting to stimulate interest in the reactivation of elderly people” and focused attention upon the frequent transfer of residents to nearby hospitals. A 42-bed ward at the Toronto Western Hospital was opened in 1961 to accommodate acutely ill residents of the Metropolitan Toronto Homes for the Aged and, if beds were available, private and semi-private patients over 65 years of age. The ward was designed to provide better care to older patients.

In 1958 Priddle chaired an Advisory Committee on Geriatric Studies, which established the Geriatric Study Center at Lambert Lodge that year for training and clinical research. Lambert Lodge was not a desired location. Originally built in 1914 as a factory, it was converted into the Christie Street Military Hospital in 1918. During the Second World War protests arose about overcrowding, inadequate equipment and supplies, and the poor quality of care provided in the Hospital. This led to the building of a new hospital for veterans at Sunnybrook that opened in 1948. The older facility was converted into a 710-bed home for the aged and became an embarrassment to the City of Toronto, being termed “an old dump” by city aldermen. The space used by the Geriatric Study Centre was described as a “maze of small offices and smaller consulting rooms.” It closed in 1975, more than 40 years after the first public protests about its inadequacies. In 1955 the Ontario Geriatrics Research Society (renamed the Canadian Geriatrics Research Society in 1975) was co-founded by Priddle and a prominent businessman, Harold Shannon. By 1981 the Society was providing $650,934 in research support.

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