Video calls during social isolation may make no difference to the quality of life of older people, a review of scientific studies suggests.

A Cochrane Rapid Review, Video calls for reducing social isolation and loneliness in older people, will come as small comfort to many after mobile technology was widely touted as a way of countering loneliness in older people forced in to isolation during COVID-19 restrictions.

The authors of the review looked at three studies involving more than 200 participants aged 65 and over who used internet video calls on computers tablets or smartphones.

There is also little to no difference in symptoms of depression after three or six months, although after a year, older people who used video calls may have had a small reduction in depression compared to those who received usual care. Similarly, video calls may make little to no difference to older people’s quality of life. – Cochrane review.

The studies took place in aged care facilities in Taiwan between 2010 and 2020 and compared video calls to usual care.

“The evidence from these three studies suggest that video calls have little to no effect on loneliness after three, six or 12 months,” the authors concluded.

“There is also little to no difference in symptoms of depression after three or six months, although after a year, older people who used video calls may have had a small reduction in depression compared to those who received usual care. Similarly, video calls may make little to no difference to older people’s quality of life.”

More research needed

The authors conceded because the studies took place in residential facilities they may not apply to people receiving home care.

Dr Lynne Parkinson

They said the evidence wasn’t enough to reach a conclusion about whether video calls reduced loneliness.

“We need more studies … to investigate this question,” they said.

Adjunct Professorial Research Fellow Dr Lynne Parkinson from CQUniversity says her research, which is yet to be published, found a similar response with regard to objective measures of loneliness, social networks and quality of life for video support groups.

But she believes objective measures don’t necessarily tell the full story.

“Our study used mixed methods, and found rich support for impact,” she told Community Care Review

“While I fully support objective measures and randomised design, and used that myself, I believe they do not tell the whole story.

“In our case, over 50 per cent of our groups continued to meet, independently, which I feel is a powerful indicator of both need and impact. ” 

Access the study here.

Other studies find benefits

Several other studies have pointed to the benefits of technology and providers including Bolton Clarke and Feros Care have rolled out tablets to clients.

In April a South Australian study found telehealth has benefits for the delivery of dementia care, following earlier research last September that showed computer mediated social support can reduce isolation.

The Royal Commission into Aged Care Quality and Safety has also heard evidence about how technology has improved quality of life for older people receiving home care.

Last year, the Digital Paradox for Seniors report found older people are enthusiastic to embrace technology and a survey by the Global Centre for Modern Ageing between March 27–April 14 found the use of technology by older people has grown during coronavirus restrictions.

The federal government has also announced flexibility provisions for CHSP funding for personal monitoring technologies including video conferencing equipment during COVID-19.

This story first ran in Community Care Review.

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  1. When two Papillions run the show Face Time is a wow at Grant Lodge Aged Care in Bacchus Marsh (3340 Vic). Rusty & QED take up the full screen. Residents have their tablets ready. It is 10.00 am Tuesday – K9 Tele Time! The dogs ‘speak’ into the camera to greet residents and entertain them with waving paws, sharing a toy – a legless, earless kangaroo and gobbling treats. The dogs wordlessly connect in a way a human cannot. They are a weekly video spiritual uplift during lockdown – because that’s how dogs work – within the heart of human beings.

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