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HOW-R-U?: Telephone Peer Support for Isolated Individuals in the Community

Researchers: Judy Lowthian, Marissa Dickins, Elizabeth Robinson with collaborators from Friends for Good and Northern Health

Funding Support: NSW Government Combatting Social Isolation for Seniors during COVID-19 Grant Program; 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. We believe that by improving feelings of isolation, loneliness and low mood we can improve overall wellbeing. The program 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.

This project is currently being conducted at Bolton Clarke (with funding support from the NSW Government and Perpetual Trustees), as well as at Northern Health (with support from the Better Care Victoria Innovation Fund), in collaboration with Friends for Good, our volunteer partner.

We are currently recruiting clients and residents of Bolton Clarke and Northern Health to the program. Preliminary feedback indicates that both volunteers and recipients are enjoying the calls, and they are providing valuable respite to isolation and loneliness during this time.