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Found in translation

A new project aims to develop technology that translates conversations between older CALD adults with dementia and carers.

The ability to talk into a device and have it translate and relay the message to another person could be a game-changer for people with dementia from culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) backgrounds, improving care and reducing the need for potentially avoidable hospitalisations.

This is the thinking behind Talk2Me, a project by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI), Curve Tomorrow and Mercy Health that has received funding from the Department of Health.

Talk2Me aims to fill a gap in the marketplace through the development of a voice-to-voice translation tool, designed with the needs of older people, particularly those living with dementia, in mind.

Dr Frances Batchelor, NARI’s director of health promotion, said people from CALD backgrounds with dementia living at home do not always receive care from ethno-specific organisations or from people who speak the same language.

“Talk2Me has the potential to make long-term changes to the way older people with dementia from CALD backgrounds receive care in the community by helping them remain in their own home for as long as possible,” Batchelor said. Amanda Bowe, Mercy Health operations director, home and community care, said her organisation cares for people from a variety of cultural backgrounds living with dementia and that it’s essential its community care team members can clearly communicate with clients to ensure their needs are being met.

Bowe said: “Talk2Me will be a fantastic resource for our community care team and will no doubt help strengthen the close bonds they already share with our clients.”

Nursing Review spoke with Batchelor about the accuracy of translation tools and how Talk2Me will differ from the technology currently on the market.

NR: How does voice-to-voice translation technology work?

FB: Voice-to-voice translation is something that already exists. So people might be familiar with voice-to-voice translation that’s already out there such as Google Translate. What generally happens is that someone has a device – for example, a smartphone or a tablet – and they open an application such as Google Translate. They select two different languages – so it might be English to Greek – and speak into the microphone. Then the voice-to-voice translation processes that in the background and then talks back, if you like, in the other language.

As you mentioned, the technology already exists, but the research team said current tools haven’t been designed for the needs of older people, including those with dementia in mind. What are some of the limitations of the technology that’s already on the market? How will the Talk2Me Project go about addressing some of those shortcomings?

Some of the limitations are that people using the existing technology need to be very familiar with things like smartphones and tablets. Sometimes that interface is quite difficult for people to navigate, not only older people but in general. Additionally, people from different cultural backgrounds may not have as much experience at navigating devices and apps. So what is really needed is an interface that’s easy to use, that’s suitable for older people, and that people with some form of cognitive impairment can use.

Will you be looking to create a new tool or just use one that’s already on the market?

What we’re anticipating is that we’ll use available technology and then adjust it so it’s more suitable. So, not designing all aspects of the technology, but making sure how it’s used is easy to navigate for older people.

How accurate is voice-to-voice translation technology? How confident can a user be that the person they are conversing with has received the correct message?

That’s a great question. We know that voice-to-voice technology can be quite accurate for very common languages, particularly if what sits behind has a dictionary of words and phrases within it. But for less common languages, it appears that the current voice-to-voice technology is not necessarily always accurate. What we’re going to do is use interpreters to ensure that when we finally get to the point of implementing this new approach there is accuracy in the translated text.

What difference do you think an intervention like this could make to the everyday lives of people with dementia from CALD communities?

I think it could have a huge impact. Currently, it’s very difficult for people from different backgrounds to communicate their everyday care needs to carers who don’t speak the same language. Having access to something like this can ensure that those people with dementia from CALD backgrounds can communicate things like pain, and that simple safety messages can be communicated to them, and that they remain at home as long as possible with support from carers. That ability to talk to the person who’s coming to care for you and communicate your needs and your wants and desires will make a huge difference to your life.

When might we see this form of the technology used in the community? What’s the timeline like for the project?

We have a two-year timeframe for this project. We anticipate doing some pilot work towards the end of those two years. Depending on the outcome of that, further refinement and development of the technology would have to happen to see it implemented on a larger scale.

Could this technology have broader applications or be adopted by other community groups or services?

Definitely. At the moment, we are just trialling this within the aged care sector. But certainly, there is potential application for use in hospital settings and within other day-to-day interactions – for example, at the shops – for those everyday needs.

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