Many B.C. seniors are opting to have their adult children look after them at home.
Yet those children are finding the task of taking care of ailing parents much more stressful than anticipated and it is causing a high number to experience what health experts call “caregiver burnout.”
In fact, B.C.’s rate of caregiver distress (30 per cent) remains the second highest rate in Canada, according to a report by B.C.’s senior advocate.
A local health sciences researcher is hoping to change that statistic with a new seniors care mobile app called Caren, launched in fall 2018.
Christina Chiu, who has a bachelor in health sciences from Simon Fraser University and is doing a master’s degree at University of B.C., developed the app with her startup company CareCrew, a small team working out of the UBC’s downtown Innovation Hub.
The app helps families manage the care of seniors living at home, helping users to share to-do lists and digitally log updates, which can be shared with a team of health care providers.
“Most people prefer to age at home, especially the baby boomer generation,” Chiu said in an interview.
The problem is that typically the caregivers are family members, who are also trying to manage their own lives, and they end up stressed out.
“They are emotionally, financially, and physically burned out and because that happens I decided to do my research on what can we do for these families,” she said.
What she discovered was that much of the stress that caregivers faced was coming from miscommunication and disorganization. So she decided to create an app where everyone involved in that person’s care can see what needs to be done, and at the same time track what has been done and ensure the senior is getting the right care.
“You might not know what is happening at your mom’s home. You have an idea that people are coming in and out but you don’t know exactly what is getting done or not getting done,” she said. “This helps track the latest care.”
So if there is an update on diet and the senior shouldn’t be eating a certain food, for example, then the app ensures the relevant people will get that update.
Jenneke van Hemert, a registered dietitian in Victoria, runs a startup called Therapeutic Meals, which provides nutrition and meal planning services for seniors and those with chronic illness at home.
Typically, she evaluates her clients’ needs and then writes it out on a piece of paper to share with the family. But she says often the caregiver doesn’t pay much attention, and communication between the carious caregivers is poor.
Now with the app, she can share updates with the family, and other caregivers, and see if there are any medication changes, which could affect the senior’s diet plan.
“If the doctor has prescribed something new, this is important to know because if the senior has been prescribed a new blood thinner, for example, then I can advise stopping grapefruit juice. Or if they have been to the hospital and have a new diagnosis, like a swallowing difficulty for example, then I have to adjust my diet texture and educate the family on thickening fluids.”
The caregiver can link accounts on the app, and then when there is an important change in care or medication required, van Hemert receives a ping on her account and can see the new information.
“It’s so much safer for the senior, and it reduces the stress of the caregiver because the caregiver cannot know what information is important for me to know to better help care for the senior,” she said.
She says another challenge she faces is that the family member doesn’t always recognize signs of malnutrition, and she is often seen as little more than a meal service.
For instance, van Hemert often hears clients say their parents are eating just fine but when she asks more questions she realizes the senior isn’t eating enough protein, for example.
“Now I can prescribe a protein supplement for that person. And now there is communication,” she said.
As for CareCrew, Chiu said they are aiming to become a leading seniors care platform.
Last January, the team won the Fraser Health Hackathon. Earlier this year, CareCrew won the SFU Coast Capital Savings Venture Prize social impact award.
More than three million Canadians are caring for an aging parent, according to a Statistics Canada report.
In 2016, there were 848,985 seniors (65 years and older) living in B.C., according to Statistics Canada.