Topic: The third layer – supporting volunteers supporting residents with depression, anxiety and loneliness in residential aged care

Day: Thursday 22 October 2020

Time:  1:50pm-2:10pm AEDT


Residents in residential aged care (RAC) are being encouraged to physically distance themselves to prevent their exposure to COVID-19. Many residents are already prone to depression, anxiety and loneliness, and the extra isolation imposed to protect their physical health can leave them vulnerable to compromised mental health. Residents require multiple layers of support to manage their mental health during these challenging times. While family and friends and RAC staff provide the bulk of support, volunteers are a third layer of support. As part of a five year project, funded by NHMRC and Beyond Blue, we have been training volunteers to provide befriending for residents with symptoms of depression anxiety and loneliness. Befriending is regular conversations with a new volunteer friend about topics of mutual interest, avoiding health-related topics. During the COVID-19 pandemic volunteers have switched to remote befriending instead of face to face. This presentation discusses the model of volunteer training and support provided in this research, and volunteers’ adaptation to remote contact with residents. The aim of the research is to evaluate the impact of befriending on depression, anxiety and loneliness.
So far approximately 90 participants and 93 volunteers have been participating in the research. Participants are people with symptoms of depression or anxiety, living in residential aged care. Volunteers are over 18 and undergo training and ongoing support. Volunteers have indicated that ongoing support and training is essential to maintain their role. A qualitative phenomenological approach has been used to understand the way switching to remote befriending impacted on volunteers and residents. Volunteers have willingly adapted their befriending visits, switching from face to face visits to telephone, video calls such as Skype, letter writing and text messages. The format for visits is decided collaboratively. Hearing impairments can have an impact on the success of the remote befriending. Residents sometimes felt uncomfortable with unfamiliar digital technology such as video calls on tablets.
Further research is being conducted to gauge the mental health outcomes for the residents, and our research will soon include residents from CALD backgrounds and residents with dementia in extensions to the research. Most volunteers and residents have accepted the switch to remote befriending as better than no contact. We are seeking extra aged care providers, residents and volunteers throughout Australia to join the study.
Quote from a participant “I think it’s made me a little bit better…when there’s no one around I used to just sit there and do nothing. Not talk to anybody or anything…I’ll really tell you, she’s very very helpful. Oh yeah (made me feel) much better…I always ask her when she’s coming back.”


Colleen Doyle PhD is a senior principal research fellow at National Ageing Research Institute (NARI) and a research consultant. She was Professor of Aged Care at the Australian Catholic University 2012-2017 in a health service research partnership with Villa Maria Catholic Homes. In 2018-20 she has provided contract research advice for the federal Office of the e-safety Commissioner, Nursing and Midwifery Health Program Victoria and Interplast Australia. Her research with NARI focuses on the impact of befriending for older adults living in residential aged care, funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council, ways to improve dementia care and health service evaluation. She founded the Australian Psychological Society Psychology and Aging Interest Group. Colleen has published extensively in academic and technical reports on aged care, including as lead author for a book published internationally in 2018 on ‘Moving into residential care; a practical guide for older people and their families’.