Part 2: Getting social for improved mental + physical health.

May 21, 2019 | Aged Care Management

“The best Australian residential aged care providers, as well as in-home care providers, are constantly on the lookout for new and innovative services to offer their clients. The Konnekt Videophone is an example of an innovative service that increases social engagement, involves remote family members in daily care, and actually contributes to improved mental and physical health outcomes, as shown in recent studies.

Social Isolation and Loneliness

We know that loneliness, as well as being alone, can be really bad for humans. Numerous studies link elderly social isolation and loneliness with physical health and mental health problems including poor sleep, high blood pressure, depression, dementia and morbidity. As a health risk, social isolation is worse than smoking. One study showed that 52% of aged care home residents have at least one symptom of depression. Why is elderly depression so common, even though providers encourage social and personal relationships?

Face-to-face conversation and Video calling

The new Aged Care Quality Standards mandate that providers offer services and support for recreational and social activities. From our observation, this usually amounts to weekly outings and, in residential aged care, in-house social programs. Are these sufficient and do they make a difference? It turns out that face-to-face contact is extremely important for mental health. Professor Alan Teo’s 2015 study showed that only face-to-face contact, with family and friends, minimum 3 times per week, reduces social isolation and halves depression risk.

In particular:

  • Other types of contact (text, telephone) had no measurable benefit.
  • Contact with strangers/staff has no measurable benefit. It must be with family & friends.
  • Contact just once per week also had no measurable benefit.

A University of Exeter UK study showed that the average care-home resident with dementia interacts with other humans for only 2 minutes a day and most of those 2 minutes are with the staff and other residents rather than family and friends. It’s no surprise that depression is so common. The study increased daily social interaction to 10 minutes, resulting in improved wellbeing and sustained benefits. Unfortunately, families of many seniors have their own busy lives, their own families, and live too far away to visit more than once a week.

Is video calling the answer?

A survey of older people reported one half were not satisfied with communication with family members. However, 82% expressed a willingness to try video calling. The desire is there! Does it help, and can it be made to work for older people?

A second, more recent study by Dr Teo tested whether Skype face-to-face conversation has the same benefits as in-person visits. The results, released in late 2018 and published in the American Geriatric Psychiatry Journal in March 2019, were a resounding YES! Participants who used video calling showed just half the incidence of depression. This provided the aged-care industry with solid evidence that video calling can, and should, supplement the all-too-infrequent visits by family and friends.

Dementia and cognitive ability

Alzheimer’s disease and dementia has been called the slow “double death”. Australian statistics show that dementia is the second most common underlying cause of death and the single most common cause of death among women. There is no cure.

The Oregon Health and Science University (OHSU) has been studying dementia for over 20 years. In 2016, Professor Hiroko Dodge had a breakthrough: Dodge’s study showed that just 30 minutes of daily video conversation actually increases cognitive ability, across a number of measures, after just 6 weeks! In her research paper that publicised the outcomes, Professor Dodge and her colleagues excitedly state (well, as excitedly as is permitted in a medical journal) that this could be used to help prevent and treat dementia. The results of the study were so positive that the U.S. National Institute of Health (NIH) funded two 5-year follow-on studies to quantify the longer-term benefit.

When we spoke to the team at OHSU, they stated (very carefully) that while it does not reverse existing dementia, video calling may help delay the onset and slow the decline of dementia. Can older people actually use an app like Skype? Dodge’s paper specifically stated that an easy user interface was critical to the acceptance and continued use of video calling.

Case Studies

While we are not medical professionals at Konnekt, we can relate the OHSU studies to our own anecdotal evidence. Met June, who is in her late 80s and lives in residential aged care. She had regular weekly visits by her nearest son Derek. She was lonely, bored and sad. She has been using a Videophone for well over 2 years. Both her son and the staff noticed that she is now more alert, more engaged, and even occasionally teases the staff!

Graham, also an aged-care resident, was moved into aged care after his wife passed away. He became withdrawn and expressed his loneliness. His partial hearing loss likely exacerbated his condition. Within days of trying his new Videophone, Graham was calling no less than 15 family members and friends regularly and seeing them face-to-face. His mood lifted. His daughter, a nurse, said that the changes were obvious to her.”

Please meet Guest Blogger John Nakulski  John is Konnekt’s Co-Founder and Marketing Director. The vision for Videophone came from John’s struggle to help his own Mum overcome dementia, stay in the family home and connect to family and friends. John has a track record for establishing products that delight and developing international partnerships for companies such as Hewlett Packard and Agilent Technologies. When he’s not helping the elderly, John loves to pretend he’s still young by building sandcastles at the beach and going swimming with his family. John has a passion for all things related to health and wellness, experience volunteering in Aged Care, and is a champion for user-centric design.

About Konnekt

Konnekt is a wholly Australian-owned company that develops and sells the award-winning Videophone worldwide to help overcome cognitive impairments, hea