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Training helps volunteers set boundaries


Volunteers benefit from training sessions prior to getting to know residents, the early findings of a befriending study show.

The National Ageing Research Institute is a quarter of the way into a four-year research project looking at the impact that volunteer-led befriending has on the mental health of aged care residents (read more here).

To date, 38 volunteers aged 20 to 95 have attended a training session before befriending 38 residents at six Victorian residential aged care facilities.

NARI senior principal research fellow and project lead researcher Professor Colleen Doyle said early findings show that vounteers value the training before commencing their interactions with residents.

“The volunteers do think training is essential to help with the support of their befriending even though it’s a very simple idea of going to visit someone that is in residential aged care to talk with them about every day things,” Professor Doyle told Australian Ageing Agenda.

Professor Doyle will present early findings of the study at the Australian Association of Gerontology conference in Sydney in November, where she will also talk about what helps volunteers support aged care residents.

Professor Colleen Doyle

Professor Doyle said volunteers found the training sessions helpful because it dealt with setting boundaries about interactions with residents including respect, confidentiality and not providing or receiving financial support or gifts.

“We also give them some information about communication skills with someone who may be having health issues, how to handle a conversation with someone who is a stranger when they start out, what sort of topics are good to talk about and the ones to avoid,” Professor Doyle said.

The training has also provided volunteers with information on conversing with residents and what to expect when visiting an aged care facility, she said.

“Some of our volunteers have never been to a nursing home before… so we try to prepare them for what they are going to see and what it’s going to feel like to walk into someone’s communal living space,” Professor Doyle said.

The volunteers also appreciate receiving ongoing support over the phone or email, she said.

Professor Doyle said a few volunteers have left the study and a few residents have passed away but no residents have opted out.

The study will continue to recruit volunteers and residents on an ongoing basis and conduct field work for another two years.

Professor Doyle said it was too early to investigate whether volunteer-led befriending reduced loneliness and depression among the residents.

The study is expected to report by mid-2022.

NARI’s project, which received a $652,000 grant, is among seven studies to share in $5 million in a program jointly funded by beyondblue and the National Health and Medical Research Council to the improve mental health of older Australians in (read more here).

The Australian Association of Gerontology conference will take place at the International Convention Centre Sydney on 5 – 8 November. Find out more here.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner to AAG.

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2 Responses to Training helps volunteers set boundaries

  1. Heather August 28, 2019 at 1:25 pm #

    Using the volunteers through the Community Visitors Scheme is a great way to address the loneliness and social isolation in Aged Care facilities. The CVS is a government initiative especially for this purpose. Auspices pay to have a Police Check for their volunteers, and they provide the information regarding privacy, boundaries, ways to communicate, and cover useful subjects such as “dementia” and “grief and loss’ etc. Volunteers become a great friend for the resident and residents look forward to that regular visit. Visits can greatly enhance the life of a resident and there are so many good stories that come out of these friendships. CVS volunteers who are provided with necessary tools to be great volunteers are very much valued!

  2. Caroline August 29, 2019 at 12:19 pm #

    Any study that supports improved mental health of older people, whether in residential or home care, is important. The above post refers to the CVS program that’s been funded for years. Are CVS volunteers part of the study about befriending or does the study target new volunteers who attended a training session before befriending?

    I’m curious about residents’ access to psychological supports and services. Will there be any study to explore residents’ experiences before/after therapy? What about residents’ experiences in relation to access to a counsellor as distinct to a psychologist? Curious….

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