Help assess the impact of telehealth for rural elders

A conference workshop will explore how well telehealth models are meeting the needs of rural older adults and develop policy recommendations.

There’s no definitive answer on how well current models of telehealth are meeting needs and preferences of rural older adults in Australia, an expert has told Australian Ageing Agenda.

But next month, a group of diverse stakeholders will explore this topic and develop policy recommendations at a workshop during Australian Association of Gerontology’s annual conference (highlights of presentations below).

Hosted by AAG’s Regional, Remote and Rural Special Interest Group, the pre-conference session will bring together people with experience or interest in telehealth models of care for rural older people including aged care practitioners.

There is a lot of debate about at the moment about the effectiveness of telehealth models for rural seniors across international contexts as well as in Australia, said RRR SIG lead Dr Rachel Winterton – a senior research fellow at the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research at La Trobe University.

Dr Rachel Winterton

“Part of the challenge is that rural places are very different in terms of their levels of access to digital technology and telehealth solutions. At the same time, older people have varied capacities to engage with telehealth, and have different expectations or preferences regarding how it should be used and when,” Dr Winterton told AAA.

She and geriatrician Dr Reena Tewarri will present the pre-conference workshop where participants will learn about policy and practice trends and explore strengths and weaknesses of telehealth models for the care of rural older people.

“Telehealth can give rural older people more timely, convenient access to care, without having to travel long distances at great expense. It can also compensate for limitations in local service delivery,” Dr Winterton said.

“[But] we don’t know much about the impacts of these sorts of models on rural older people in terms of the quality and experience of care they receive. We also don’t know much about the impacts of these types of models on the future viability of rural health services, or how they can best complement existing models of care in rural areas that work really well.”

The workshop aims to close some of these gaps with participants working together to help design recommendations for addressing challenges to optimal care of rural older people through telehealth. Dr Winterton is encouraging health and aged care practitioners, advocacy groups working in the rural health or aged care space, academics, rural older people, and policymakers and anyone with experience or interest in telehealth models of care for rural older people to join them.

“Drawing on the views and experiences of diverse groups, this workshop is going to allow us to look closely at where and when telehealth models of care work well for rural older people in the Australian context, and how best to optimise delivery of care services remotely in a way that capitalises on these strengths and counters some of the gaps or challenges. We are going to use these discussions as a basis for developing a position paper with policy recommendations.”

SIG provide opportunity for collboration

Dr Amber Mills

The RRR SIG is one of nine such groups at the AAG. Each group has a convenor and is supported in their activities – such as hosting webinars, in-person workshops, discussion groups and seminars – by AAG policy and research manager Dr Amber Mills.

“The special interest groups are designed to bring together AAG members with a shared interest on a particular topic, and to provide an opportunity to exchange information and ideas and to undertake collaborative work together. The SIG members meet virtually and can communicate with one another on AAG’s online community platform,” Dr Mills told AAA.

Workshop focuses on dementia for LGBTIQ+ people

The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Special Interest Group is also hosting a workshop as part of the pre-conference program. This SIG is developing a co-designed model of dementia care for LGBTIQ+ people and is hosting the workshop in partnership with LGBTIQ+ Health Australia, Dementia Support Australia, and Deakin University.

Participants can:

  • learn about contemporary research and best practice
  • explore challenges and opportunities for LGBTIQ+ people with dementia
  • connect with others to develop ways to address challenges and support opportunities
  • engage in discussions to inform a co-designed model of care for LGBTQIA+ people with dementia.

Both of these workshops take place on Tuesday 14 November. Places are available. Tickets cost $75 – $95 each.

Conference highlights

Marcus Riley

Elsewhere at the four-day event – Ballycara executive chairman Marcus Riley, a positive ageing advocate and founder of the ageing well philosophy Booming, who will deliver the 2023 David Wallace Address.

Professor Felicity Baker, director of international research partnerships at University of Melbourne and Adjunct Professor at the Norwegian Academy of Music, is presenting a keynote and other sessions on the power of signing and music therapy.

There will also be a plenary dicussion on creating aged-friendly places for all featuring:

Dr Phillippa Carnemolla
  • inclusive environments researcher Dr Phillippa Carnemolla who, in her role as an associate professor UTS, is working on a diverse range of projects that evaluate the impact of the built environment on caregiving and independence in group homes, residential aged care and health facilities
  • academic and clinical physiotherapist Associate Professor Frances Batchelor, who is divisional director of clinical gerontology at the National Ageing Research Institute and senior principal research fellow overseeing a research program on falls prevention, physical activity, healthy ageing, technology, dementia care, and health and aged care systems evaluation.

Other highlights include:

  • physiotherapist Rik Dawson will explore the implementation of the Top Up Study at Whiddon – the research he undertook on scaling up telehealth physiotherapy in aged care to improve mobility at University of Sydney
  • Professor Evonne Miller from Queensland University of Technology will share the results of her creative arts projects with older adults.

The full AAG Conference runs 14 – 17 November at The Star, Gold Coast in Queensland.

Australian Ageing Agenda is a media partner of the AAG

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