Assam startup 'Aakuali Care' is fostering graceful ageing

Over 20% Indians above the age of 80 suffer from dementia, according to the country’s national health portal. That number slightly drops to about 15% for people above 75 years. The global prevalence for individuals aged 65 and above is 5%. For individuals like Abisheķ Ray, who has witnessed the devastating effects of the condition, there’s nothing better than finding a source of hope for an affected relative. “The team at Aakuali Care led by Debastuti and Sukanya has been a breath of fresh air in my pursuit of finding a support mechanism for my mother suffering from Dementia for the last 4 years now.

“Their focused and well researched services have been a blessing both to my mother and me. Whether it’s my mother’s loss of confidence, the ability to carry out her favorite activities and hobbies or her deteriorating cognitive skills, the team at Aakuali Care has found ways of helping her deal with these issues in a constructive manner. The advantage with Aakuali Care lies in their holistic approach of care giving in the field of geriatrics,” says the Kolkata caregiver.

Like Abishek, Indonesia-based Ananya Kaul has found the right care in Aakuali for her mother. “Dementia is a disease which demands attention and patience. It requires specialised care in order to ensure that patients are able to live the best possible life that the disease will allow. Aakuali has been able to step in and provide the care which my mother desperately needed.  Their care specialist has been able to provide companionship, conversation and compassion to my mother. With therapies directed at re-jogging old memories, improving motor skills and strengthening physical fitness, Aakuali has been able to have a positive impact on her day to day life,” says Kaul.

Run by Sukanya Buzar Baruah and Debastuti Baruah, Aakuali Care is a startup, under the trust ‘Mind Needs Foundation’, mainly concerned with caring and nursing for the elderly. The journey to begin this venture started out with a need for special attention to the hardship faced by the elderly during the COVID-19 crisis. Frankly, it was long overdue. Debastuti, a professional in geriatric care, caught this vision while working with the elderly in her community, and has continued running with that vision ever since.

The goal of the startup is simple, provide psycho-social care to enable the elderly reach their optimum level of happiness and dignity. In response to the lack of stable support platforms to cater to the needs of the elderly, Sukanya and Debastuti have begun offering the much needed services to the elderly using the platform of Aakuali Care. They not only cater to the physical needs, but also the intellectual, psycho-social and emotional needs of the elderly, with the aim of enhancing their quality of life.

“Aakuali Care aims to bring around a change in the general notion about old age from a weak and frail phase of life to a meaningful stage of life where one can explore new avenues and pursue unfulfilled desires,” Sukanya says. So far, the success rate and responses of loved ones of some of the patients in their care has been pretty positive and overwhelming. The feedback also shows that these individuals have invested a level of trust in the startup, and so far have been happy with the results. This has been their driving force to do even more.

A few factors set Aakuali Care apart from other startups, and these have to do with the fact that they are a dedicated holistic care service provider for the elderly population, give you the luxury of availing their services at home, have a dedicated team of professionals like psychologists, social workers, doctors, physiotherapists, professional caregivers, etc that work towards ensuring the overall wellbeing of the elderly through  customized care plan, flexible timing of service, and on-call support to the family caregivers.

Revealing how they cracked the first deal and the initial challenges that followed, Sukanya says, “While we were doing all the legal formalities for the registration of Aakuali Care in the month of September, 2020, Debastuti being in this field for more than 7 years was approached by a daughter who was desperately looking for help to manage her mother with vascular dementia. Due to the pandemic, they were specific with the services being delivered at home. The requirement exactly matched with the concept of Aakuali Care. And that’s how we got our first break.

The experience of having our very client was very exciting along with a motivation to provide the best level of care possible. Every session required a thorough level of planning on how to execute the interventions so that the sessions can bring a positive change in the respective elderly.

“The challenges that we face are varied in nature, sometimes we face issues in conducting the sessions whereas at time we face issues from the family members. All our elderly has different issues, for instance, a person with dementia will exhibit different symptoms depending on the stage of the disease and other co-morbidities. So, our care specialists cannot adopt a standardized way of conducting sessions. Each session needs to be customised according to the condition which can become stressful at times. Moreover, since our services are very novel most family members are not aware of it which again becomes a challenge for us. In such cases, in order to gain their trust, we need to spend time in counselling the family as well. In this way we have been addressing one challenge at a time by introducing easy to intense therapy sessions and eventually positive results are seen in most cases,” she adds.

Running a venture is not easy and Aakuali Care too is facing several challenges, such as lack of funding, lack of sufficient awareness, specificity of the business being lost in the general notion of the masses, and dealing with the taboo around mental health.

Despite the obstacles, the duo is able to figure out smart ways to overcome the challenges. Their success stories highlight their good work and show a promising future. Being a caregiver is a very stressful and a lonely journey for all. One of the biggest success, we believe, is the bond shared by the elderly and care specialist, notes Debastuti.

Sharing two of their notable success stories, Sukanya says, “Mr Sharma (name changed) was very hesitant to participate in the therapy sessions. It was a challenge for the care specialist to convince him to sit through two hours of therapy. However, with continued efforts, it was seen that after a couple of sessions, he started opening up to the care specialist. He looked forward for their sessions as it is a time where they can share a lot of things, reminiscence about the past and most importantly have a companion to talk to and do various activities together.

“Another success story worth mentioning is regarding Mrs Baruah (name changed) who is living with dementia. Dementia is a condition where all the cognitive abilities like memory, language, problem solving, and motor abilities are affected and at present there is no cure to it. The pandemic has been even harsher for such people and in most cases it was seen that their condition has deteriorated. During the lockdown period, she was completely disoriented and gradually regressed to the past and developed behavioural issues like wandering out of home and restlessness. After continued therapy sessions, she has shown remarkable improvement.  For someone who was completely disoriented to time and place can now write down the year, month correctly and for us it’s a big achievement,” she adds, exhibiting a bright smile.

Not ignoring the prevalence of dementia across the world, Aakuali Care is positioning itself for bigger tasks in the future. The determination to bring the concept of graceful and productive aging to their immediate community, and the state at large, can be regarded as a major driving force and reason for their success thus far. The division in responsibility is also a contributing factor to their smooth sailing. While Debastuti focuses on the geriatric psychological aspect, Sukanya focuses on building the business and making suitable connections.

Like most competent establishments, the next step is expansion. Sukanya hopes that they would be able to distribute this goodwill service to other towns and cities that require it. She says, “Like Guwahati, we have got enquiries from different parts of Assam like Dibrugarh, Nalbari, and Tinsukia. Our next plan would be to expand our services to these towns as well. In the next 5 years, we plan to expand our services to 10 major towns of Assam, develop a ‘one-stop care model’ for the elderly in 5 major places in Assam and start its operations, assess the psychological status of the elderly in all the old age homes of Northeast as well as develop a model for their holistic wellbeing, and set up a professional geriatric training centre”.

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