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Researchers: Judy Lowthian, Elizabeth Robinson with collaborators from Northern Health

Funding Support: Perpetual IMPACT Philanthropy Program; Better Care Victoria Innovation Fund. 

Social isolation and loneliness are often overlooked, particularly in older individuals experiencing poor physical health. The experience of social isolation and loneliness is likely to be intensified by the current coronavirus pandemic, with the requirement for older individuals to remain at home and distance themselves physically and socially from one another. This is particularly true for those experiencing poor physical and mental health leading into the pandemic. 

The HOW-R-U? project represents an opportunity to intervene and fill this gap. HOW-R-U? is an innovative volunteer-based peer support program aimed to reduce isolation and loneliness in older people. It is based on a successful pilot conducted by Head of Research Judy Lowthian that reduced feelings of isolation, loneliness and low mood in individuals discharged from hospital. The program at Bolton Clarke involves identifying individuals experiencing social isolation, loneliness and low mood; and matching them with a volunteer who telephones them weekly for 12 weeks. Telephone support has been found to reduce feelings of social isolation, loneliness and depression, as well as to improve quality of life. 

Feedback from participants, volunteers and staff show that everyone is happy with the program. Participants report that calls make them “feel good” and enjoy speaking to someone else in their life, while volunteers reported the benefit of the HOW-R-U? program was not only to those receiving the calls, but those providing them as well, especially during the pandemic.   

This program was implemented at Bolton Clarke as well as at Northern Health (with support from the Better Care Victoria Innovation Fund), and was successfully implemented into business as usual at both organisations. 


Links to Media Articles 

HOW-R-U? Implementing a Sustainable Social-Support Program that Promotes Wellbeing for All During and Following COVID-19 | ARIIA

New partnership targets post-discharge social isolation - Northern Health 

HOW-R-U?: Holistic Approach to Care - Northern Health 

‘HOW-R-U?’ calls keep Alma connected on Neighbour Day | Bolton Clarke 

Hospital emergency departments are filled with lonely people. This Sinai Health doctor is on a mission to help them | The Star

Staying connected through lockdowns and restrictions as a senior in the community – News Of The Area

Peer-reviewed publications from pilot study

HOspitals and patients WoRking in Unity (HOW R U?): telephone peer support to improve older patients’ quality of life after emergency department discharge in Melbourne, Australia—a multicentre prospective feasibility study | BMJ Open

HOspitals and patients WoRking in Unity (HOW R U?): protocol for a prospective feasibility study of telephone peer support to improve older patients' quality of life after emergency department discharge - PubMed (