Innovative support for rural carers

To mark National Carers’ Week 2018 (14-20 October), La Trobe University is calling for participants to take part in an innovative, national project funded by the Australian Government Department of Health, which aims to increase carer support in rural communities.

All community members including carers, volunteers and staff, are invited to participate in this major online initiative – the first of its kind in Australia.

La Trobe’s Virtual Dementia Friendly Rural Communities (Verily Connect) project - which includes video conferencing, a specially designed website and smartphone app, and help provided by local volunteers in using technology - aims to connect and increase support for carers of people living with memory loss and dementia across 12 rural locations in Victoria, South Australia, and New South Wales.

Minister for Senior Australians and Aged Care, Ken Wyatt AM, said Verily Connect promised vital linkages for regional carers and was made possible by almost $1.7 million in Federal funding.

“With over 425,000 Australians living with dementia, the work of carers is critical, especially in regional areas,” Minister Wyatt said.

“Verily Connect is set to reduce the challenges of distance and isolation, linking carers and helping them continue delivering support to some of our most vulnerable citizens.”

Director of La Trobe’s John Richards’ Centre for Rural Ageing Research and Principal Investigator for Verily Connect, Professor Irene Blackberry, said there is a very real need for carers to be supported and connected, especially when living in often very isolated communities.

“Dementia Australia estimates there are 291,163 Australians involved in providing unpaid, informal care for people living with dementia,” Professor Blackberry said.

“Caring is a vital role that can be both joyful and demanding. We know that when carers are well supported, they are more able to manage any stresses arising from their caring role.”

Professor Blackberry said the Verily Connect Project incorporates technology to create an online network of carers, based on dementia-friendly community principles.

“People who live in rural communities have less access to support services,” Professor Blackberry said.

“By creating a virtual dementia friendly rural community, we can eliminate geographical isolation and potentially reduce the need for expensive and disruptive residential care or multiple acute care admissions for people living with dementia.”

Tina, a carer in Koo Wee Rup, Victoria, who is participating in the trial, said Verily Connect is linking her with others in similar situations.

“Verily Connect is helpful because it’s really good to speak about what’s happening with someone else who understands – and who may have ideas I haven’t thought of,” she said.

Three key innovations are being trialled:

  • Online peer-support groups for carers who meet by video-conference
  • Access to support and information for carers via a purpose-built website and smartphone app
  • Face-to-face help for carers in using online technology, provided by local volunteers who have received Verily Connect training.

Verily Connect is being implemented with staggered starting times across the next six months. Some communities are already trialling Verily Connect technologies while others are waiting.

Rural communities involved in the project are:


Edenhope; Warracknabeal; Kyneton; Heathcote (active from 29 October 2018); Horsham (active from 29 October 2018); Robinvale; Kooweerup (active); Mansfield (active from 29 October 2018).

New South Wales

Molong (active); Nyngan

South Australia

Riverland; Victor Harbor (active)

Verily Connect is funded by the Australian Government’s Department of Health.

University partners involved in Verily Connect are Swinburne, Flinders, Newcastle and Saskatchewan (Canada).


To find out more about the trial go to:

Available for media interviews: Professor Irene Blackberry, Director of La Trobe University’s John Richards’ Centre for Rural Ageing Research and Principal Investigator for the Virtual Dementia Friendly Rural Communities (Verily Connect) project. Email: Mobile: 0410 626 880

Media enquiries: Claire Bowers,, mobile: 0437 279 903