New research explores social supports to help older caregivers in rural Australia

Charles Sturt University researchers seek participants for a survey for new research to develop interventions to address isolation and depression for older caregivers in rural Australia.


Senior Lecturer in the Charles Sturt School of Social Work and Arts Dr Belinda Cash is conducting the research as a recipient of a Charles Sturt Early Career Research Grant. Professor Suzanne McLaren in the Charles Sturt School of Psychology is co-researcher.


Dr Cash is also a member of the Charles Sturt University Ageing Well Research Group and the Charles Sturt Institute for Land, Water and Society (ILWS).


Her research is based on support for older adults in Australia most often being provided by unpaid family members, with 2.8 million informal caregivers contributing an estimated 2.2 billion hours of unpaid care during 2020.


She said research has begun to investigate the protective role of social supports in reducing depression and other poor health outcomes in caregivers.


“Although caregiving can be a rewarding task, informal care is often associated with risks to the caregiver’s health, including having a higher likelihood of psychological disorders, levels of stress and poorer wellbeing when compared to non-caregivers,” Dr Cash said.


“For caregivers in rural areas, the experience of providing support to an older adult can also be made more difficult by having limited access to formal health and aged care services to support both older adults and their caregivers.”


Dr Cash’s research project title is ‘Online and in-person social support as protective factors for depressive symptoms among older caregivers in rural Australia’.


The researchers seek survey responses from 180 adults aged 60 and over who live in a rural location in Australia and are a co-resident caregiver to an older adult (someone over the age of 60 years).


The first stage of this research requires participants to complete a survey, which will take around 10 to 20 minutes.


There is then a question that gives participants an option to let us know if they would like to participate in a follow-up interview to chat further about what rural caregivers would find most beneficial in a social support program.


Dr Cash said the findings will be used as the basis to inform the development of interventions to address issues of isolation and depression for older caregivers in rural Australia.


“While social supports have traditionally happened face-to-face, the importance of digital platforms in maintaining social connection and wellbeing have become increasingly evident during the current COVID-19 pandemic and the recent Australian bushfire events,” Dr Cash said.


“The availability of both in-person and online connections are particularly important for rural Australians, whose social supports are already impacted by geographic distance.


“This new research will make an important contribution to understanding the potential protective role of online and in-person social supports for older caregivers.”


Survey participants can access the survey at


13 September 2021.