Serving those who serve Alberta?s seniors: New research initiative on technologies to help health care aides

Alberta?s seniors and those in home care can look forward to improved efficiency of care thanks to a new research initiative funded by Alberta Health and Wellness.

5 May 2011

Alberta's seniors and those in home care can look forward to improved efficiency of care thanks to a new research initiative funded by Alberta Health and Wellness. The research team led by Lili Liu, principal investigator from the University of Alberta is looking at how technology can help address the workloads of health care aides, Alberta's second largest group of front-line health-care providers.

Alberta Health and Wellness awarded the inter-disciplinary team, including co-principal investigators Sharla King, Eleni Stroulia, and Ioanis Nikolaidis, a grant of $800,000 to research technologies for the province's health care aides (HCAs) who serve older adults living at home with chronic conditions.

With an expected demand for at least 5,000 HCAs in the next five years and the number of seniors in Alberta expected to double in 20 years, Liu, PhD, says this partnership could not come at a better time.

"HCAs are important to the care of so many seniors and we want to make sure that quality care continues," says Liu, who is also the chair of Occupational Therapy at U of A's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine. "The research initiative addresses home care and aging-in-place-we are interested in older adults, chronic conditions and palliative and mental health."

Over a period of one year, this project will document and analyze the workflows and workload issues of HCAs and identify and implement affordable technologies to help deal with these issues.
"This project will study how we can help health care aides to improve care that they provide for seniors across the province," says Gene Zwozdesky, Minister of Health and Wellness. "Testing new technologies and providing more supportive living options are commitments within our 5-Year Health Action Plan to help seniors be healthy, and to help them remain as independent as possible for as long as possible."

While there are a number of technologies that assist with health care delivery, this project will look at the development of information communications technologies (ICTs), increasing the capacity and decreasing the workload for HCAs. Examples of new ICTs could include paperless filing systems that HCAs could access remotely. Technology solutions will be generic and affordable for users and funders.

Beth Wilkey, the director of supportive living at the Shepherd's Care Foundation, views this funding as win-win situation.

"Health care aides take so much pride in looking after and helping seniors," Wilkey says. "Not only will seniors benefit, but our HCAs will be happier with their job. So much time is spent doing paperwork and this will hopefully create more time for what's most important-the hands-on care of seniors."

Kathy Tam, executive director at Wing Kei Care Centre in Calgary, agrees. "Often when people think of technology, they imagine some sort of robot taking over, but this is not the case. Technology doesn't need to be complex in order to help us. It can be simple too. It's important for us to find out where the inefficiencies are, and what type of technology can be effective in supporting HCAs, where exactly it is needed and when."

Lynne Hamilton, an HCA at Shepherd's Care says she is interested to see what results the research will have. She loves her job and wants to keep getting better. "I love working with seniors. I'm filling a need and helping, and the seniors are very, very appreciative. This gives me satisfaction."

Other members of the research and advisory team include: Masako Miyazaki (U of A Occupational Therapy), Shaniff Esmail (U of A Occupational Therapy), Cheryl Sadowski (U of A Pharmacy), Corinne Schalm (Shepherd's Care), Daniel Lai (University of Calgary), Suzette Phillips (AHS, Camrose), Shirley Roozen (HSERC), Kimberley Fraser (U of A Faculty of Nursing), Armann Ingolffson (U of A School of Business) and Martin Ferguson-Pell (U of A Rehab Med).

About the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine
As the only free standing faculty of rehabilitation in Canada, the University of Alberta Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine balances its activities among learning, discovery and citizenship (including clinical practice). A research leader in musculoskeletal health, spinal cord injuries and common spinal disorders (back pain), the Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine aims to improve the quality of life of citizens in our community. The three departments, Occupational Therapy (OT), Physical Therapy (PT) and Speech Pathology and Audiology (SPA) offer professional entry programs. The Faculty offers thesis-based MSc and PhD programs in Rehabilitation Science, attracting students from a variety of disciplines including OT, PT, SLP, psychology, physical education, medicine and engineering.