Web-support trial for depression, isolation among rural elderly

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.

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.

Dr Alison Boyes

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.

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Tags: alison-boyes, community-care-review-slider, depression, integratedliving, online community, research, rob-sanson-fisher, rural, university-of-newcastle,

3 thoughts on “Web-support trial for depression, isolation among rural elderly

  1. What about isolation in remote areas where internet access is limited or non existant?

  2. It has merit but I think there will be more issues to address such as lack of knowledge with computers and internet by users, access issues, cost issues, connectivity issues and so forth. Isolation is still a huge issue and studies show that the health effects of isolation are the same as smoking something like 16 cigarettes a day. I am wondering if it may be better to partner with whatever services are in rural and remote areas and looking at local solutions for this issue. I suspect that those elderly who can use the internet for these purposes probably are already doing so, if they have access to an internet provider. Also families are very important rural and remote areas so maybe include the family in the mix to see what local solutions may be effective.

  3. Not everyone can afford internet access, to buy a computer and other needed accessories either due to income restrictions, chronic illness, disability and/or lack of time/interest.

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