Dr Briony Dow1, Ms Kirsten Moore1, Mr Peter Scott2, Ms Amodha Ratnayeke2, Ms Kate Wise3, Dr Jane Sims4, and Associate Professor Keith Hill1.
1 National Ageing Research Institute, Victoria, Australia.
2 Infoxchange, Victoria, Australia.
3 Carers Choice Ballarat, Victoria, Australia.
4 School of Physiotherapy, University of Melbourne, Victoria, Australia.
Beyond Blue Victorian Centre of Excellence
Project completion year
Family caregivers provide a significant amount of care required by older people and people with disabilities. This contribution often comes at a cost to the caregivers’ mental health.
Family caregivers in rural areas tend to be more socially-isolated and are less likely to use computers and the internet than their metropolitan counterparts.
This project was a small-scale study examining the feasibility of undertaking a larger randomised controlled trial of a computer intervention, which aimed to reduce social isolation and depression amongst older carers.
This feasibility study involved 14 older carers living in the Pyrenees area of rural Victoria (Grampians region).
- Fourteen rural caregivers were provided with computers in their homes and six months of internet access.
- Each caregiver attended a four-week training program on basic computer skills and how to use the email and internet.
- Measures of social isolation, depression, carer burden and computer confidence were taken at baseline and at a 3-month follow-up.
- Interviews were completed with caregivers at follow-up to discuss outcomes of the study.
- A focus group discussion was conducted with eleven participants to discuss the study and resolve computer issues.
This study found it would be feasible to conduct a larger randomised controlled trial to establish whether internet and email usage can reduce depression and social isolation amongst older carers.
The carer participants increased their confidence in using the internet and email and all intended to continue using their computers after the study period.
A significant decrease in depression amongst participants was found.
There was a non-significant improvement in social isolation and no change in carer burden.
Participants identified many social benefits associated with the computer intervention. These included:
- increased intergenerational connection
- community building
- increased confidence to learn new skills
- preparation for the future
- improved access to information about hobbies, interests, health and services.
The one potential drawback identified was the possibility of computer use leading to social isolation rather than social connectedness, which could be detrimental to people with depression. This issue, however, was not raised by carers.
Using recycled computers kept costs to a minimum. The hardware and software costs for each participant were less than $A300. The cost of training was approximately $A375 per participant including venue hire and trainer time, travel and accommodation costs.
Implications for Policy and Practice
Computer and internet usage for older carers warrants further investigation using a randomised, controlled trial approach.
Although training is an important aspect of the intervention, the initial costs and technical expertise required to purchase and set up a computer may be a deterrent for many older carers.
Various organisations and local governments in Australia provide subsidised computer training, but this is not available in all areas.
Ongoing costs of internet access may also be a burden for older people suggesting investigation into discounted pensioner and carer rates for internet access.
Findings from the study have been promoted through various avenues including the National Ageing Research Institute’s website, conference presentations, a NARI volunteer function and The Age newspaper.
About the Researchers
The research team is involved in a broad range of fields including carer support and advocacy, technology and aged-care research.