Loneliness and Mental Wellbeing of Residents in Homes for the Elderly Assessed in PhD Thesis

Loneliness and depression among people resident in homes for the elderly was assessed in a PhD thesis by a lecturer in UKZN’s School of Nursing and Public Health, Dr Mary Jarvis.

The study – titled: A Connected Health Intervention to Address Social Isolation, Loneliness and Mental Wellbeing in Persons 60 years and Older in a South African Residential Care Setting – resulted in Jarvis being awarded a Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Her work involved the development and evaluation of a low-intensity cognitive behaviour therapy – intervention supported by mHealth viz WhatsApp.

‘The intervention involved the development of technological readiness, psychoeducation and the delivery of positively worded messages which were counter to negative cognitions,’ said Jarvis. ‘It was developed through workshopping and informed by a cross sectional survey, two umbrella reviews, and a survey of the mobile phone landscape. The evaluation was conducted with a randomised crossover design.

‘The study is a first in its demonstration of the effectiveness of a LI-CBT mHealth supported intervention on cognitions linked to loneliness levels and mental well-being in older persons living in residential care. The study links with current World Health Organization moves and recognition of the essential role of digital technology in health.

‘Ageism often limits the potential of older persons and the satisfying part is knowing my study made a difference in many people lives and has opened up a window of further opportunities,’ she said.

Jarvis says she was exceptionally fortunate to be supervised by Professor Jennifer Chipps of the University of the Western Cape (UWC) and to enjoy the expertise of co-supervisors, Dr Suvira Ramlall of UKZN and Professor Anita Padmanabhanunni of UWC, all experts in the areas of her study.

‘I had wonderful support from my family and friends that saw me through the challenges. My PhD was a family journey – at times a way of life – that I believe my family are happy is now something of the past,’ added Jarvis.

Words: Lihle Sosibo