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‘Be a friend’ project aims to reduce loneliness in aged care residents

The National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) is encouraging Victorians to ‘befriend an older person’ as part of a major project aimed at helping reduce depression and anxiety in older people living in aged care homes.

The National Ageing Research Institute's befriending program is one of the first to run in Australia. (Source: Shutterstock)
The National Ageing Research Institute's befriending program is one of the first to run in Australia. (Source: Shutterstock)

NARI is recruiting volunteers to take part in the program, one of the first to be run in Australia, who could ‘befriend’ older people living in aged care homes in the Melbourne suburbs of Glenroy and Ivanhoe. Befriending is a new approach to link older people with a ‘friend’ to talk about everyday topics and events without discussing health problems or emotions.

Volunteers will be asked to visit a resident once a week for four months and will undergo training sessions before and during the program. They will also be asked some questions about their experience once the program is over.

According to lead researcher Professor Colleen 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, and the social environment,” she says.

“Many residents are socially isolated even though they are in communal living, and social isolation is a contributor to depression.”

The befriending research, funded through the National Health and Medical Research Council and beyondblue, includes a randomised 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.

Professor Doyle says no other 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.

If you are interested in being involved or would like more information, please contact Marcia Fearn via email m.fearn@nari.edu.au or call (03) 8387 2305).

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