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Caring for the carers.

A $1.7million government initiative rolls out this week to support Australia’s remote and regional dementia care-givers.

Isolation, financial stress, physical and mental health all seem to fall by the wayside when you’re caring for someone else. Having the right access to networks that understand the challenges of caring can help to sustain a carer’s wellbeing, but this can be difficult when you’re living in regional or remote areas.

According to a report on regional carers, there is a significant “well-being gap” between carers and non-carers in regional areas across Australia.

The national Regional Wellbeing Report is a study conducted every year since 2013 and surveys up to 13,000 carers in regional areas across the country. The 2016 report showed carers living in remote and very remote regions had “lower satisfaction with their standard of living” than carers in other regions. The more remote the area, the larger the problem.

This particular report the catalyst for the latest initiative from La Trobe’s Virtual Dementia Friendly Rural Communities.

The Verily project is a high-tech regional network to support carers of people with dementia that will roll out across three states thanks to a $1.7 million Government investment through the Department of Health in an effort to find a solution to the isolation.

Poor wellbeing due to isolation is a global problem. According to a UK report, Carers UK (2017) State of Caring Report, 8 out of 10 people (78%) reported they feel more stressed because of their caring role, with carers who felt lonely or isolated stating they’re almost twice as likely to report worsened mental (77%) and physical (67%) health.

There are 291,163 Australians involved in unpaid, informal care for people living with dementia. And according to the latest figures, carers living in remote regions––particularly between the ages of 30-49, had the greatest level of stress among those surveyed.

Those figures will hopefully drop with the help of the Verily project.

“People who live in rural communities have less access to support services,” Principal Investigator for Verily Connect, Professor Irene 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 for people living with dementia.”

The program, which uses a smartphone app, website and video conferencing to help connect people caring for those with dementia had it’s first run this week in Horsham, with 11 other regional remote centres set to join the program between now and June 2019, including Kooweerup, Victoria, Molong, NSW, and Victor Harbour, South Australia.

The aim of Verily Connect is to facilitate an online support community to help reduce challenges such as distance and isolation. Trained volunteers in each location also providing support will complement the technology.

Hammond Care’s head of research, Professor Chris Poulos says,

“Carers tend to neglect their own health and they tend to neglect their own wellness needs. Many people even have to give up paid employment to take on a full-time role of caring,”

With reported cases of dementia on the rise in Australia, according to reports by 2025 we will have more than 500,000 residents living with dementia, it’s now more important than ever to make certain our care industry is sustaining itself. Good mental health and general wellbeing is number one.

Principle Investigator, Professor Irene Blackberry hopes these focused programs will help develop effective and accessible ways to support Australians experiencing dementia and, equally importantly, their carers.

“Through these regions we hope to develop a toolkit that can used by other areas to establish virtual dementia friendly rural communities.”

LaTrobe University researchers are currently calling for program participants in the Wimmera region. Expressions of interest being accepted through verilyconnect.org.au/ .

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