The National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) is seeking participants for its research project into how regular conversations with a new friend can reduce loneliness, depression and anxiety in aged care residents.
The study aims to pair more than five hundred aged care residents with volunteers for weekly “befriending” chats about topics of mutual interest, over a period of four months.
An estimated 52 per cent of people living in residential aged care facilities have significant depression symptoms, according to lead researcher Professor Colleen Doyle.
“We know that loneliness and depression are associated,” Professor Doyle said. “Many people with loneliness symptoms also have depression symptoms and vice versa.
“So, we’re looking at both loneliness and depression, and anxiety as well, and there’s certainly indications from our previous research that befriending did have an impact on depression symptoms.
We’re hoping that this trial in residential aged care will give us more evidence about how (befriending) works, why it works, and how we can best encourage this sort of befriending model to be taken up more frequently in aged care.”
Volunteers and Aged Care Homes Still Needed
So far 90 residents and one hundred volunteers have joined the project, which will end in late 2022. Volunteers and residents chat face-to-face, or via phone, video call, letters or even texting, says Professor Doyle.
“The volunteers come to us from all walks of life… We give them a face-to-face training session, and then we keep in touch with them throughout the intervention period. Or we’ve also got some online modules so people can do the training in their own homes.
“And then we also keep in touch with the volunteers throughout the time that they start contacting the older people to make sure they’re comfortable with how it’s going and answer any questions that arise.”
Researchers interview residents before, during and after the four-month period, “to gauge the level of depression and anxiety symptoms that they’re experiencing”.
Professor Doyle said she hoped the findings would encourage similar volunteering efforts on a large scale.
“This study is funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and also Beyond Blue, and we’re hoping that if this study does have some significant effects then Beyond Blue will take this on as another way for volunteers to support older people in residential aged care by reaching out to them.
“That’s the sort of thing we’re trying to find out. What is it, how big is the effect and how do we then put it into practice so that it’s a model for aged care in the future?”