Creating better mental health outcomes for older people being discharged from hospital could be as easy as a weekly phone call, research has found.
The research, conducted by the Bolton Clarke Research Institute, Monash University and two hospitals, found that weekly phone calls by trained hospital volunteers achieved a significant reduction in depressive symptoms for 68 per cent of participants, and reduced feelings of loneliness for 53 per cent.
Bolton Clarke Research Institute principal research fellow Dr Judy Lowthian said older people presenting to hospital have a high likelihood of loneliness, social isolation and depressive symptoms, which contributes to a several-fold increase in likelihood of re-presentation and hospitalisation within 12 months.
“Hospitalisation in older age is associated with high rates of adverse outcomes, with one in three older people experiencing physical or cognitive functional decline within one month of discharge, and 15% being re-hospitalised,” she said.
“Loneliness and social isolation are an increasing major public health concern, being more harmful than smoking 15 cigarettes/day, with negative impacts on cardiovascular health, increased risk of cognitive decline and dementia, and increased risk of premature death.
“Downstream consequences include additional demand on acute hospital services. Therefore, developing and testing new interventions that target loneliness, social isolation and depression is of vital importance.”
The HOW R U? post-discharge peer support trial measured the results of weekly social support phone calls delivered by trained hospital volunteers over a three-month period.
Feedback from participants included: ‘telephone calls are a good way to receive social support without having to go out’; ‘it is empowering to talk to someone when you’re down, and know that you are not alone’; ‘after discharge is when you really need it, if you’re on your own’; ‘my peer was supportive and understanding’.
The HOW R U? programme will be among mental health interventions to be highlighted at The Reality of Mental Health: Approaches to Recovery symposium during Mental Health Week on 13 October at Melbourne Convention Centre.
The programme will also feature sessions on consumer engagement, mental health in Veterans and mental wellbeing in later life, with presenters including Ambulance Victoria Executive Director Mick Stephenson, Phoenix Australia director Professor David Forbes and Australian Catholic University Institute for Health and Ageing senior research fellow Dr Tanya Davison.