Emirates Health Services – Gold Award Winner of the Leadership and Management Award 2022

Date:  19 June 2023

Mental Health of Older Adults (MHOA) Clinical Academic Group (CAG)

Geriatric care providers often focus too much on the physical health of their patients, overlooking the mental health needs of elderly patients in the process. There are hardly any services dedicated to serving the mental health needs of older adults, despite the fact that a significant number of this population suffer from cognitive decline and related illnesses.

This is why the Al-Amal Psychiatric Hospital initiated the Mental Health of Older Adults (MHOA) Clinical Academic Group (CAG). This project offers the first integrated, comprehensive, specialized mental health service in the United Arab Emirates, offering dedicated inpatient, outpatient, and community outreach mental health services to the older population of the northern emirates.

The project, which was established in collaboration with Maudsley Health in 2019, uses innovative technology to provide timely diagnosis and management of the mental disorders affecting the elderly. For instance, MHOA uses Artificial Intelligence for dementia detection, and employs integrated cognitive assessment technology in primary health care centers. MHOA is also the first institution in the Gulf region to offer Cognitive Stimulation Therapy, the first non-pharmacological therapy for dementia.

Serving an underserved population In the UAE, it is estimated that individuals aged older than 60 represent 4% of the total population. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that this percentage will increase 12-fold by the year 2050. And yet, there hasn’t been any dedicated mental health service for the elderly in UAE. Older adults received mental health within general adults by psychiatrists and most of the interventions were mainly medication based. Neither were there any validated tools to assess cognition, which is essential to the process of diagnosis of dementia, and there was no validated psychosocial intervention that was culturally adapted to suit the client groups in the UAE.

To address this gap, the MHOA uses technology to provide the highest standards of care while maintaining the patient’s autonomy and dignity. Through the prevention and timely diagnosis of the mental disorders affecting the elderly, MHOA CAG seeks to reduce further complications and ease health the burden on families. The MHOA CAG works closely with patients’ families to provide specialised care for older adults across different stages of illness.

In terms of clinical care, MHOA CAG promotes the use of integrated cognitive assessment (ICA) to enhance the timely diagnosis of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and dementia. The use of ICA reduces the rate of undiagnosed dementia, and improves the process of referring cases from primary care to memory clinics. With early diagnosis, ICA helps reduce the pressure and burden of care on the health system and family members.

MHOA CAG also provides Cognitive Stimulation Therapy (CST) which is specially customized to the culture of the UAE. This approach provides innovative non-pharmacologic treatment to patients with mild to moderate dementia, and improves the mental ability and memory of dementia sufferers. To date, there have been 152 Arabic CST sessions ranging from 90-120 minutes per session twice a week. This continues to be sustained with good levels of attendance and participation, and with consistent positive feedback for the sessions.

The MHOA project also provides training and education for healthcare providers across the UAE. It adapts recognised international training in old age psychiatry to suit cultural needs in the UAE, with the aim of establishing an Old Age Psychiatry Fellowship programme in the Gulf region. Further, as part of its research goals, the MHOA CAG adopts international treatment modalities to Emirati and gulf culture. The MHOA CAG is active in research, with a portfolio of six publications. Two of these publications involved the discovery of previously unregistered mutations in patients with young onset dementia.

On the societal aspect, MHOA CAG also seeks to raise awareness about mental health and wellbeing in old age to help Emirati adults to age gracefully and reduce the stigma associated with mental disorder and infirmity in later life. The MHOA CAG also works with social services and trains staff to ensure that older adults are well cared for and protected.

The MHAO has received several accolades for different projects since its inception, both from within the organization, nationally, outside of the organization, and regionally. In July 2021, the MHOA CAG received the Emirates Health Services (EHS) Innovative for Health Award for the Year 2020 for Research Papers published in the field. In February 2022, the Culturally adapted CST and the Memory Clinic were acknowledged as an innovation for pioneering health award with Al Amal Psychiatric hospital, amongst other service developments within the hospital.

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The IHF Awards 2023 is accepting entries across 7 categories until 30 June 2023

Written by:

IHF Secretariat

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