Online intervention programs for older adults with chronic disease

Dr. Elsa Marziali, Senior Scientist, Rotman Research Institute

What’s the Issue?
Persons with chronic disease and their caregivers assume much of the responsibility for managing their health care and maintaining their own well-being. The health care system relies on patients and their caregivers to provide much of the care that people with chronic diseases need. For example, family caregivers of persons with dementia help keep these patients out of the long term care facilities, saving the health care system billions of dollars annually. In addition, patients who are actively involved in maintaining their own rehabilitation regimens avoid deterioration in their overall health status, and therefore require fewer visits with doctors, fewer emergency room visits and hospitalizations.

What’s the Research?
Over a period of eight years, Dr. Marziali and her team developed and evaluated Internet-based intervention programs for caregivers of persons with neurodegenerative diseases such as dementia. The intervention replicates clinic-based counselling support groups and yields similar outcomes in terms of improved physical and mental health status. The focus of Dr. Marziali’s current research is on using the technology platform her team has developed to deliver more intervention programs for older adults with chronic disease through the Internet as opposed to the clinic. The platform consists of four modules; 1) a module for training clinicians to reliably implement the intervention strategies; 2) a video conferencing module for communication and task completion; 3) a resources module with disease specific information; and 4) a module with a focus on healthy lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, sleep and alcohol/smoking control. Each intervention program includes evaluation tools to help compare outcome effects between clinic-based and online interventions.

What’s the Impact?
The research team’s next steps include dissemination of the website platform intervention training/intervention programs to clinician, patient and caregiver user groups. They also will continue to evaluate evidence-based intervention programs transitioning from clinic to in-home delivery. If their internet delivery model proves successful, it could give patients and their caregivers more control over their own health care, and help reduce the burden of chronic disease on the health care system.

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