Pleasant Activities for Well-being (PAW) Project

High rates of depression in residential aged care are common in Australia and elsewhere.

Major influences on depression include loneliness, disengagement and a lack of meaningful activity, all of which are common in residential aged care. However, traditional psychological services are often unavailable, and staff lack the skills or capacity to support older adults with depression. Medication is often the only treatment provided.

Innovative, non-pharmacological approaches to reducing depression and improving well-being are needed. Behavioural activation is an evidence-based approach that has been shown to reduce symptoms of depression as much as anti-depressants.

We partnered with The University of Melbourne and Benetas to investigate the feasibility and acceptability of an eight-week, volunteer-led behavioural activation programme, designed to improve the well-being of aged care residents.

We conducted specialist training sessions for volunteers, who were then partnered with residents who met the selection criteria. Qualitative and quantitative data were collected from residents and volunteers at baseline, eight-weeks and three months. For residents, participation was associated with a large, statistically significant reduction in depressive symptoms. There were also trends towards reduced anxiety and increased positive well-being. Improvements in volunteer well-being and staff satisfaction were also indicated. Findings support the use of behavioural activation in residential aged care.

Opportunities to improve the program were identified, which we hope to incorporate into a larger study of volunteer-led behavioural activation in community, residential and retirement living.

For further information about this project, please contact Dr Meg Polacsek: