Dementia care via telehealth is just as beneficial as face-to-face approaches, according to a study that looked at the delivery of a reablement program using a Skype-style platform.
The research, led by Professor Kate Laver from Flinders University in SA, appears in the current edition of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry.
The study focused on 63 people with dementia who participated in the COPE (Care of Person with Dementia in their Environments) program and their familes.
The COPE program, designed to enhance well-being and quality of life for people with dementia and their carers, is usually conducted via a series of ten home visits by an occupational therapist.
For this study, half the participants received the home visits and the other half, with the assistance of a carer, received two home visits followed by eight video conference sessions with the OT.
Cost savings and accessibility
It found not only was the telehealth delivery just as effective as face-to-face, but it also saved costs and could make similar dementia interventions more accessible in rural and remote areas.
“Essentially what we found was that people in both groups benefited from the program and the benefits were comparable in both groups,” Professor Laver told Community Care Review.
“So what we would say is that program is as effective when you use this telehealth delivery, and it’s a lot more resource efficient.”
Professor Laver said although the study was conducted before the coronavirus lockdown, the findings are timely for people who may be worried about loss of face-to-face interactions or who want to minimise exposure risks.
“If people are worried that (telehealth) is sub-par, I think this study shows that it’s not. You’re still getting that individual care, you’re still getting the expertise of the therapist even if they’re not there in person,” she said.
“And if you’re worried about people coming into your house, or therapists are worried about doing home visits, this is another way to avoid increasing your risk.”
Making dementia care more accessible
Telehealth technology also made specialist programs like COPE available to a larger population, Professor Laver said.
“People with dementia and their carers often have difficulty getting out and about, and this type of program often involves home visits,” she said.
“Therapists can find it hard to do ten home visits when you factor in travel, and if you live in regional or remote areas you’re not likely to be near health professionals with the right expertise in dementia.”
She said the technology didn’t present an issue to the participants because a family member or carer was present to help out.
Professor Laver said the study underscored the value of telehealth programs for people with dementia.
“Traditionally there’s been a lot of evidence for these reablement type programs but its been really difficult to offer them in real life because they are quite resource intensive,” Professor Laver said.
“So I think we should be exploring ways for therapists to make these telehealth programs more available.”