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Impact of a telephone/touchscreen based regular contact care and support system on physical and mental health outcomes, including loneliness and psychological wellbeing in older adults

Division of Health Research

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Prof C Holland , Prof Niall Hayes No more applications being accepted Competition Funded PhD Project (European/UK Students Only)

About the Project

Full-time PhD studentships are available, funded by the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) North West Coast. The purpose of the NIHR ARC funding is to support applied Health Care, Social Care and/or Public Health research relevant to the needs of the diverse communities served by the NIHR ARC and its local health and care system and be implementable across the local region. The research should be generalisable and have wide applicability across health and care nationally, as well as within the local health and care system where it is conducted.

Loneliness and social isolation are key concerns in the United Kingdom (UK), as evidenced by the launch of the UK Government’s first loneliness strategy, based on the view that loneliness is a public health risk [1]. Evidence suggests that loneliness increases risk of premature mortality at a rate approximately in line with smoking or obesity [2]. It is associated with a greater risk of frailty [3, 4], cardiovascular disease and stroke [5], depression [6], and cognitive decline and dementia [7, 8]. Thus, methods to reduce loneliness and social isolation are critical in managing public health.

Alertacall is a daily service that substantially increases person-to-person contact with older people and other groups, to confirm wellbeing. The service requires minimal installation, with devices plugging into a normal electrical or telephone socket. The organisation agrees times with the customer to confirm their wellbeing, once a day, or as often as desired. Confirmation is made by pressing an ‘OK’ button. If no ‘OK’ button is pressed the team makes contact to confirm wellbeing, and to exchange information, or just have a chat. Thus, the service provides as much or as little human contact as the customer wishes. If contact cannot be established the call is escalated to nominated contacts. The university and Alertacall will work together with partners, e.g. social housing providers, local authority social services teams, the NHS Innovation Agency, to identify individuals to participate in the research. The issues around health and other inequalities will be assessed throughout using the Health Inequalities Assessment Tool (, ensuring that inequalities are ameliorated, not exacerbated by the introduction of the tool.

This mixed-method (qualitative and quantitative methods used together) PhD studentship will combine mental health, ageing and technology research to determine the impact of the “Alertacall” daily contact services on wellbeing, including loneliness, depression and anxiety, and psychological resilience of older people living alone. The research will investigate specific features of the system to determine mechanisms that improve outcomes. This includes:

- Control over when to use the system each day, and how frequently
- Method of engagement (digitally or through human contact)
- Impact of the messaging service, which can provide reminders for medication, appointments, community activities etc.
- Impact of social prescribing messaging delivered by different methods e.g. video, audio, text
- Ability to escalate in the event of a deterioration in wellbeing
- Detecting longer term changes in health by analysing changes in patterns of engagement

Research questions
1. What are the experiences of older people and informal carers (family/friends) of the use of traditional assistive technologies, such as the pendant alarm, and of the use of the Alertacall system?
2. What impact do the different aspects of the intervention have on older people living alone, in relation to assessments of:
• Mental health and wellbeing, loneliness
• Psychological resilience and coping strategies
• Quality of life
• Physical health

Usage of health and social care provision, and that of other potential commissioners.

For further information, please refer to our webpages. If you would like to be considered for this opportunity please contact the project supervisor including a covering letter, you CV and a fully completed research proposal (not more than 1000 words excluding references) related to the title you are applying for should be returned by email to [Email Address Removed] quoting the studentship reference number LUARC2021.

Funding Notes

The full-time studentships are tenable up to 3 years full-time (subject to satisfactory progress) and will cover the cost of tuition fees at Home/EU rates. A stipend in line with the UK Research Council is payable at £15,285 per annum, and an additional allowance of up to £1000 per year will be paid for approved research costs.

Due to funding restrictions, the studentships are open to Home/EU applicants only. It is expected the successful applicant (s) will
commence 1st February 2021.


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