National Ageing Research Institute is looking for Victorian residential aged care providers and residents to join a clinical trial of a major befriending program, one of the first to be run in Australia.

Professor Colleen Doyle, who is leading the National Health and Medical Research Council funded project, wants to talk to providers who may be interested in joining and involving their residents 

“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.

 “We are interested in signing up around 500 residents in Melbourne and regional and rural Victoria who are interested in helping with the research.”

NARI is providing trained and supervised volunteers who will visit residents weekly for four months.

 “At this stage, we are keen to sign up more providers and their residents,” Professor Doyle said.

The research question NARI is posing through the project is whether extra social support can influence symptoms of depression, anxiety or loneliness in people living in residential aged care.

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, funded through the National Health and Medical Research Council, 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 has been approved by the Austin Health Human Research Ethics Committee (reference HREC/45941/Austin-2018).