There are over 400,000 people in Australia with dementia. Nearly one in ten people over 65 live with the condition, making it the single greatest cause of disability in older Australians.
The impact of dementia care is significant. “Around 1.2 million Australians deliver informal care to people living with dementia,” explains Professor Irene Blackberry, “and for those living in rural and regional areas, the challenges are amplified by limited access to care and support.”
Blackberry, Director of the John Richards Centre for Rural Ageing Research, is leading world-first research to provide innovative support to rural carers of people living with dementia.
The collaborative project – spanning five universities, 37 health service providers and 12 rural Australian communities – is trialling technology solutions including a website and mobile app, peer-to-peer videoconferencing, and face-to-face volunteer support.
“The three components of our program work together to provide comprehensive support to carers,” says Blackberry. “The Verily Connect app offers carefully curated, evidence-based information about dementia, while also connecting carers to other carers and service providers in their communities.”
“Video conferencing offers carers virtual, peer-to-peer support, without the need for them to travel or leave the person they are caring for. And all this is tied together with learning hubs which are volunteer-led, rural-based initiatives that help to train people in the use of technology.”
The Verily Connect website and app will be publicly available until December 2020. Evaluation data will then be used to develop a toolkit featuring information, podcasts and digital stories to promote the establishment of other dementia-friendly communities.
“Carers living in rural and regional areas often feel isolated and alone,” says Blackberry. “These online resources allow them to connect with others, and obtain the dementia advice and support they need.”