Future of Ageing Blog Series – Rochelle Amour, Consultant, Age Caribbean: Can we automate care? Developing countries may not have a choice

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Rochelle Amour, Consultant, Age Caribbean, examines the use of technology in Trinidad and Tobago’s care sector.

Elder care in T&T has an unfortunate reputation. This is in large part due to a simple lack of education. With no geriatric specialty offered in any accredited nursing programmes in the country, caregivers are often unaware of how to manage and treat common issues faced by older persons, especially when it comes to patients with limited mobility, speech and dementia.

Of the hundreds of formal and informal caregivers I have interacted with locally, a startling majority could not say what each of their patients’ various medications were for, while many were simply unaware of the existence and the role of allied health professionals like Occupational Therapists. The need for accessible information for caregivers is more urgent now than ever before in T&T, a country with a rapidly ageing population and an increasing financial interest in the market demand for elder care.

So, with limited state resources, how do we improve the quality of elder care on a national scale to protect patients and empower caregivers?

As the old adage goes, necessity is the mother of invention. For Age Caribbean, this meant curating and publishing a free Caregiver Blog on the company’s website. Caregivers, both formal and informal, are usually referred to the blog for specialist advice on common questions around sensitive, complex issues like medication management, how to maintain activity with dementia patients, coping with difficult behaviours and understanding how different allied health professionals can provide much needed support.

In Gerontology, one of the most important concepts I learned was the importance of patient participation in their own care decisions. While the Caregiver Blog has proven immensely helpful to improving the quality of life of many stroke and dementia patients in T&T, it is not tailored to the patients themselves. A few months ago, I was introduced to Kheston, a PhD candidate at the University of the West Indies who was working to address this very issue.

An older friend of his had suffered a stroke, and while visiting her at the public hospital at which she was warded, he overheard the nurses complaining that they did not know when she needed to be cleaned or given water, because the stroke had impaired her speech and she was essentially unable to communicate. At the same time, the patients’ family members were incensed at the lack of effective care being provided.

Kheston embarked on a solution; an app which uses illustrations so that stroke patients and others with limited speech can communicate with one tap what they may need; from a glass of water to some peace and quiet. Unfortunately, his friend passed away before the app was completed, but it is up and running to help those who need it now.

Communicare is being trialled in various care contexts around Trinidad, and is another excellent example of how a small, developing country is using automation to respond to the gaps in its elder care industry. The simplicity of the app’s interface means that older persons do not need to be tech savvy to use the console, as it caters to those who may not be literate, or who may have difficulty seeing small text on a screen.

The impact is still being assessed, but the use of automation in care in T&T is likely to prove crucial for the protection of patients and quality control of elder care in the absence of formal, physical facilities, legislation and resources.  Simply put, when it comes to elder care, automation may be T&T’s most effective tool.

Rochelle Amour (MSc Gerontology, King’s College London) is a consultant at Age Caribbean and writer based in Trinidad and Tobago.

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