Australia’s largest provider of rural home support services is participating in a study to assess whether using the internet to connect elderly people in regional communities can reduce depression.
The $500,000 study will be led by Professor Rob Sanson-Fisher of the University of Newcastle and will source participants from integratedliving Australia’s 12,000 customers along the eastern seaboard from far north Queensland to Tasmania.
The funding is part of a $5 million research grant announced by the federal government on July 27 for studies to improve the mental health of elderly Australians.
Addressing a lack of social connectivity
Dr Alison Boyes, a member of the Newcastle University research team, says people living in the community in rural areas can be disproportionately affected by poor social connectivity and have less access to life-enriching resources than their urban counterparts.
The funds will be used to establish a private online community dedicated to older adults where participants can engage in one-to-one and group-based communication with their peers. They’ll also be provided with training on how to use the platform to connect.
The researchers aim to recruit 230 participants from rural NSW and Queensland. They will be divided into two groups, with one group getting access to the online community, and the other receiving usual care. Participants will be assessed over 12 months to see if the online support is effective in promoting mental health and well being.
Finding solutions in technology
Dr Boyes says technology can provide many advantages over face-to-face or telephone-based peer support, including accessibility, autonomy and anonymity, as well as providing access to a diverse range of individuals.
“Finding a mechanism to support geographically isolated older people to be socially connected is vital,” she told Community Care Review.
“The use of web-based technology ensures that if effective, the online peer support intervention can be rapidly scaled up and integrated with the existing online platforms hosted by aged care, mental health and community services.”
Integratedliving’s strategy and innovation project manager Indra Arunachalam says the organisation has already conducted a pilot study in the NSW Hunter region looking at the needs and experiences of rural elderly people and is currently gathering further data leading into the University of Newcastle project.
“By working with university of Newcastle we hope to enhance our e-health strategy and hopefully the development of technological solutions to increase older people’s access to services and improve their health outcomes,” she told Community Care Review.
Other studies funded through the NHMRC grant will investigate interventions for depression and anxiety in residential aged care facilities.
You can read about them here.