The market to serve an aging population is growing, while the market to serve children has levelled off.

A state of play is the human condition where people learn, and it doesn’t matter if you are two or 102.

“Play is an integral part of the human condition,” said Marc Kanik, owner of Keebee Play and Ambient Activity.

It’s this universal attribute that Kanik is tapping into for business success in creating interactive play structures for the very young and the very old.

Kanik has been developing modular play structures for the two to seven age group since 1990.

He moved his operation from Calgary to Midland in 2005. He currently employs 22 full-time staff in 20,000 square feet of the former Mitsubishi (originally RCA) factory.

Locally, Keebee Play structures can be seen in the emergency department of Georgian Bay General Hospital, and in the Midland and Penetanguishene public libraries. They are all brightly coloured and feature tasks to build early literacy and numeracy.

Toys are shipped to libraries, hospitals, doctors’ offices and airports everywhere from Midland to the Netherlands.

“It’s fine motor skill play. It’s an important type of play for places we sell into. We don’t want kids running or jumping in airports or doctors’ offices,” said Kanik.

But while the wood shop and paint shops, and shipping departments are busy on the floor, Kanik and his engineers/designers are busy developing a product using technology to interact with the elderly.

An aging population and a reduction in the birth rate is driving the business from children to the elderly

“The market for children’s play in this country has peaked. Keebee can’t really grow,” said Kanik, touring the reporter around the shop floor.

He launched Ambient Activity in 2017.

“We are focusing their energies on taking play and repurposing it to an aging population.”

The first product created was ABBY. It is a wall mounted unit that the elderly can approach from wheelchair height. It looks like an old-fashioned radio and features a steering wheel, switches and buttons, an image of a cat with fur for a tactile experience and a screen with music, games, images and videos.

Kanik initiated a study with the University of Toronto in 2017 where they trialed ABBY in six long-term care homes: Villa Care Centre, Georgian Manor and Hillcrest Village in the Midland region and three in Toronto. Researchers measured patient agitation and mental state, quantity of antipsychotic medications used and staff burnout rates.

“We can show that there is a statistical benefit to putting these types of interventions in long-term care.”

“Technology such as this is an important tool to stimulate people and reduce agitation,” Kanik said.

Now, Kanik and his staff are developing a second product called Genie that will use technology to link individuals with dementia to their families. Using asynchronous communication, software will recognize individuals and let them know if there are messages for them from family members. The person with memory loss will simply need to press a large button to receive messages.

“Sometimes they just need to know that their son or daughter is out there wanting to say hello.”