Residents at Liscombe House, Old Colonists’ Association of Victoria aged care facility, are taking part in a major befriending program, one of the first to be run in Australia.
The clinical research trial is run by the National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) which has been funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council and beyondblue. The question being posed through the research is whether extra social support can influence symptoms of depression, anxiety or loneliness in people living in residential aged care.
Professor Colleen Doyle said: “Befriending involves having a conversation with a person about everyday topics and events in a friendly way without discussing health problems or emotions,” she said.
The OCAV residents are among 500 older people living in residential aged care in Melbourne and regional and rural Victoria helping with the research. NARI is providing training and supervised volunteers who will visit residents weekly for four months.
According to Professor Doyle, about half of people living in residential aged care facilities may have significant depression symptoms.
“This may be because of individual physical health factors, high prevalence of grief and loss among the residents, or the social environment. Many residents are socially isolated in residential aged care even though they are in communal living, and social isolation is a contributor to depression.” Professor Doyle said.
No studies have been carried out to test the effectiveness of befriending, or non-directive emotional and social support, for relieving depression symptoms experienced by older adults living in residential aged care facilities despite some evidence for its effectiveness in other settings.
The befriending research includes a randomized controlled trial of befriending compared with treatment as usual to improve depression, anxiety, social support and loneliness among residents. An economic evaluation will also examine the costs and benefits of the program.
This study has been funded by the National Health & Medical Research Council and beyondblue and has been approved by the Austin Health Human Research Ethics Committee (reference HREC/45941/Austin-2018).