CQUniversity developed the Caring for Carers Program, which aims to connect carers with other carers for peer support and social network augmentation, following the findings of two other studies and a review of the current research in the field.
Research Lead Professor Lynne Parkinson has been driving the Caring for Carers Program and has shared her excitement at bringing the initiative to those who will benefit from it in a first trial.
“The Caring for Carers Program arose from two other research projects - one that found that carers in rural Australia are socially, as well as geographically, isolated and don’t often access services that can help, with the other study revealing that group videoconferencing is acceptable, feasible and effective for patient education and support,” she explains.
“The current research about the impact of group videoconferencing for carers [that contributed to the program] reports high levels of acceptability and a reduced sense of isolation and so we want to now know if a group videoconferencing model will work to reduce social isolation for rural carers of people living with dementia.”
Professor Parkinson adds that during the caregiving period, socioemotional support from family and friends plays an important role in sustaining caregiving activities, and that post-care, these social networks facilitate adjustment to role change and dealing with grief.
“Developing and improving access to peer support to enable carers to effectively cope with the challenges of caring can positively influence their caring experience,” she explains.
“And if videoconferencing can achieve this connection, then this may lead to the scaling up of this approach to reach many more carers.
“Given the number of informal carers needed by 2025, this would be of enormous benefit to the community.”
Currently the program is looking for rural carers looking after people living with dementia to sign up to participate in six 1.5 hours chat sessions, with 6-8 people per group and an experienced facilitator.
“This is a free program and it’s a new way to support isolated carers to connect with other carers in a similar situation; to chat from home in a relaxed, informal atmosphere; and to learn and share information and experiences with others who understand,” Professor Parkinson explains.
“We will conduct up to 36 groups with 6-8 people in each, over 12 months from June 2018 to May 2019.
“Participants will be invited to attend these sessions, to learn about services and resources that may support their role as carer, to share their experiences, hear other people’s experiences, and to connect with people in a similar situation.”
The program will use participant’s own devices and readily accessible software in an attempt to increase the sustainability of the groups and encourage continued meetings after the initial sessions are complete.
Professor Parkinson says that the research team will also require participants to complete online surveys about their health and wellbeing, as well as in depth interviews about their experience of the sessions.
Following the trial of the program, the team hope to see the initiative rolled out across more rural and regional carer communities.
“We hope to work with carer organisations to scale this program up across Australia,” Professor Parkinson says.
“We see our groups as running alongside the other available resources, including those provided by Dementia Australia and Carers Australia.
“We hope videoconferencing groups will become another tool in the toolkit for supporting carers of people with dementia.”
Carers New South Wales (NSW) Chief Executive Officer Elena Katrakis has openly supported the initiative, saying that anything that addresses the needs and impacts of caring is “very important”.
“Caring itself is very isolating and with dementia, even more so,” she explains.
“This program links people who are carers of people with dementia to others and to supports, which helps to address the isolation and the impacts of care and I think anything that provides connection to emotional and social support will be positive.”
Ms Katrakis adds that it is vitally important for carers to reach out when they are in need of support.
“So many people are at home by themselves not reaching out asking for help,” she continues.
“People in rural locations are absolutely at a disadvantage - it's often more isolating as a result of the location and there are less services and less access to that and appropriate support.
“Many carers out there need support and it's good to get the support when you need it.
“There are supports available to through Dementia Australia and of course Carers Australia’s state based organisations, such as Carers NSW.”
Carers interested in participating in the CQUniversity’s Caring for Carers Program can register or find out more information by calling 0437 579 695 or by emailing.
Each participating carer will also be offered a $50 voucher as a “thank you” upon completion for their involvement, while also going into the draw to win one of five devices.