Assessing new support tool for carers of people living with dementia

Researchers at the University of Strathclyde are part of a project that will assess an online training and support resource for family and friends supporting people living with dementia for use in the UK.

The ‘iSupport’ resource, developed by the World Health Organisation (WHO), is designed to help dementia carers provide good care and take care of themselves. The project to assess iSupport is being led by Bangor University and funded by £1.48m from the National Institute for Health Research NIHR.

Carers can use iSupport at their own pace and access whichever parts of it they feel are most relevant to them from their place of choice using a computer, tablet or smartphone.

The majority of people living with dementia are supported and receive care from family members. Most people living with a dementia are cared for at home, and the role can be very stressful, with many carers experiencing mental and physical illness as a consequence.

These ‘informal carers’ often have limited specialist knowledge of dementia and dementia care, let alone know how they can manage their own stress as carers. Covid-19 has meant that many community support services for people living with dementia have been cancelled, placing increasing pressures on carers.

Unique opportunity

Dr Kieren Egan, in the Department of Computer and Information Sciences and site principal investigator for Scotland, said: “This project is a collaboration in every sense of the word and an exciting opportunity for the University of Strathclyde. It brings together academics and experts across universities, public health organizations, and vital charity partners such as Alzheimer Scotland. Crucially, the work affords a unique opportunity to appraise the digital solution with experts: carers themselves.”

Professor Gill Windle, who is leading the international research team from School of Health Sciences, Bangor University, said: “Whenever new services or medical procedures are introduced, they need to be assessed to ensure their efficiency and effectiveness.  

“NHS guidelines recommend that informal carers of people living with dementia such as family and friends should be offered training to help them develop care skills and manage their own physical and mental health. 

We believe that iSupport will provide a good solution. Before any introduction, we need to conduct a full evaluation of the costs and benefits, considering how effective the online course is in reducing distress, and what aspect of the course carers like.”

The project also involves University College London, The World Health Organisation, Carers Trust Wales, Alzheimer’s Scotland, Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, with the help of 365 dementia carers from across Wales, England and Scotland.