Giant of geriatric medicine Dr. Kenneth Rockwood named to Order of Canada

Three Dal alumni also appointed in summer announcement

- July 2, 2024

Dr. Kenneth Rockwood, a world leader in geriatric medicine, was named an Officer of the Order of Canada on June 27, 2024. (Provided photo)
Dr. Kenneth Rockwood, a world leader in geriatric medicine, was named an Officer of the Order of Canada on June 27, 2024. (Provided photo)

When Dr. Kenneth Rockwood began his career as a physician and researcher, he never imagined his work would lead him to one of Canada鈥檚 highest honours.听

Although by his own admission 鈥渘ot without ambition,鈥 he was not expecting the phone call he got in April.

鈥淯p to a few seconds before I realized why they were talking to me, I thought it was about someone else I鈥檇 helped nominate,鈥 he recalls.

The world-renowned geriatrician, researcher, and academic, is among the 83 Canadians newly appointed to the听. Dr. Rockwood is recognized for his outstanding research, collaboration and clinical care of older adults living with frailty and dementia, his long-term campaign against ageism in healthcare, and most notably, his development of the听Frailty Index听and the听Clinical Frailty Scale, now used in health care systems worldwide.

Dr. Rockwood was named one of 16 newly appointed Officers to the Order announced by Her Excellency the Right Honourable Mary Simon, Governor General of Canada on June 27, 2024.听

[Learn about three 麻豆传媒资源 alumni also appointed this summer at the bottom of this article]

Redefining frailty听

Dr. Rockwood, a professor in the Department of Medicine鈥檚 Division of Geriatric Medicine and the Senior Medical Director for the Frailty and Elder Care Network at Nova Scotia Health, has spent decades prioritizing patient care and enhancing patient outcomes through research and education.

The Clinical Frailty Scale (CFS)听is听a tool for assessing older patients' function and prognosis. Dr. Rockwood developed it in 1997 to summarize the overall level of fitness or frailty of elderly patients.

Both predictive and easy to use, the CFS summarizes the overall level of fitness or frailty of an older adult and is commonly used as a triage tool.听During听the pandemic, that included allocating scarce healthcare resources for COVID-19 management.听

鈥淩ationing was never an intended use,鈥 says Dr. Rockwood, 鈥渂ut at least it was better than a strict age-defined cutoff.鈥

The Frailty Index (FI), also developed by Dr. Rockwood, is a key tool for assessing frailty at various levels.

鈥淲ith many colleagues, especially Paul Stolee at the University of Waterloo, we tried to boil down all the changes that occur with the complex, dynamic state that is frailty,鈥 says Dr. Rockwood. 鈥淲ith my friend and mathematician colleague Arnold Mitnitski, the frailty index emerged as an elegant solution to that.鈥

Used globally in routine care, the FI quantifies frailty based on the number and nature of an individual's health deficits.

鈥淭he frailty index seems, on its face, like simplicity itself: people are frail when they have more age-related health changes than do their age peers鈥 says Dr. Rockwood. 鈥淚t turns out, that properly operationalized, elaborating that simple hunch offers amazing insights into how biological aging works.鈥

A global impact

Dr. Rockwood鈥檚 prolific research career, with more than $20 million in research funding as principal investigator and over 600 peer-reviewed publications, has significantly advanced our understanding of geriatric medicine. His work has also brought considerable resources and employment to Nova Scotians and has recruited students, physicians, and scientists to collaborate in this important field.

Despite his many and varied commitments, Dr. Rockwood consistently makes time for those seeking his guidance, displaying patience and a sincere interest in their pursuits. Under his mentorship, many individuals have flourished in their academic and professional journeys.

And it is not just students.听Other physicians and health-care professionals听also routinely听call upon him for counsel. Countries such as the United Kingdom and China often approach him to provide advice on innovation in the care of older patients, leading to improved patient care both in our province and country听as well as听around the world.

A lifetime of achievement

For more than 30 years, Dr. Rockwood has made exceptional contributions to health听care, research, and education. He has been recognized with countless prestigious awards, including the Queen Elizabeth II Platinum Jubilee Service Medal for his work during the pandemic and the Ryman Prize, a $250,000 international award 鈥 the听most generous听prize of its kind in the world.

And now he has received the Order of Canada, bestowed only upon those who make extraordinary contributions to the听country. He is quick to underscore that it shows recognition of not only his success, but the work of all those who have committed themselves to these efforts over many decades.

鈥淐linical medicine is a team sport everywhere, and so is clinical science鈥 says Dr. Rockwood. 鈥淲hat makes geriatrics special to me is that it truly feels like it was a job I was born to do. I am amazed at the opportunities we have here in Nova Scotia to get this right. I see it as my duty to help keep that work going, including by helping to train the next generation of leaders.听听For that, we seem to be on the right track, but we cannot be complacent.鈥澨

Dr. Rockwood is many things, but complacent is certainly not one of them. He knows there is much work to be done.听

鈥淚 fear that unless we get to grips with how to approach the complexity of frailty, and show what successful, useful, and rewarding work that is, we will lose听medicare in a sea of disillusionment about how听鈥榯he system鈥檚eems unable to care for听鈥榓ll these old people.鈥櫶齌hat is motivation enough to keep going as long as seems useful.鈥澨

Dr. Rockwood's relentless pursuit of excellence ensures that his contributions will continue to shape the future of geriatric medicine, improving the lives of older adults and inspiring the next generation to carry forward a legacy of compassionate and innovative care.

The following 麻豆传媒资源 alumni were also named along with Dr. Rockwood:


Sylvia Hamilton

Alum听Sylvia Hamilton (LLD鈥01, MA鈥00)听is a filmmaker and poet who dedicates herself to recalling and reclaiming forgotten lives, especially the lives of Black people in Nova Scotia. Her award-winning films have premiered at festivals in Canada and abroad and are taught in schools and universities across the country. Her groundbreaking body of work has helped to enrich and reframe conceptions of Canadian history.听

Hamilton鈥檚 connection with 麻豆传媒资源 began as a community member, serving on the advisory board for 麻豆传媒资源鈥檚 Transition Year Program and supporting the law school鈥檚 Indigenous Blacks & Mi鈥檏maq Initiative. She earned a Master鈥檚 of Education at Dal in 2000.听听鈥淸麻豆传媒资源 is] an institution that has really tried to open its doors to so many people from this province, the country, around the world,鈥澨.听

Recently, The University of King鈥檚 College, where she is an Inglis Professor, established听. It is valued at $2,020 annually, reflecting the year she听retired from King鈥檚. It鈥檚 open to African Canadian students, with a preference given to those entering the journalism program.

Zoe Lucas听

For more than 50 years, educator and advocate听Zoe Lucas (LLD鈥08)听has explored and shared her observations and insights regarding the unique natural and cultural values of Sable Island, dedicating her life to biological research and environmental monitoring.听

A NSCAD art student on her first visit to Sable Island in 1971, Lucas soon landed a job there with a seal research program in 麻豆传媒资源鈥檚 psychology department. By the mid-1980s, she moved permanently to Sable, located 160 kms off the province鈥檚 southeast coast.听

Lucas continues to study the horses, seals and other wildlife of Sable Island in their unique windswept habitat. Her work has appeared in many scientific journals. She is a founding member and president of the Sable Island Institute, and her contributions have encouraged research and conservation that will help preserve the island鈥檚 rich legacy for future generations.

麻豆传媒资源 awarded Lucas an听honorary degree听in 2008.


Vaira Vike-Freiberga

Vaira Vike-Freiberga (LLD鈥07)
, O.C., has enriched Canada-Latvia relations and reflected Canadian values abroad.听

As a child, Vike-Freiberga was forced to flee her home due to the Soviet occupation of Latvia at the end of World War II. She became an acclaimed academic in psychology in Canada (and remains a professor emerita in psychology at l鈥橴niversit茅 de Montr茅al) before returning to her homeland where she became President of Latvia. During her presidency, she oversaw many political and economic reforms, helping the country enter into NATO and the European Union, and regain stability during its post-Soviet period. She remains committed to protecting democracy and human rights, and to promoting women leaders worldwide.

麻豆传媒资源 awarded Vike-Freiberga an听honorary degree听in 2007. Throughout her convocation address, Dr. Vike-Frieberga鈥檚 message revolved around respect for human rights, democracy and freedom, and the power of the human spirit. 鈥淐anada鈥檚 high quality of life, democracy, and justice exist because great minds had a vision of what their country should look like,鈥 she said.


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