Grey nomad research: an unexpected journey with issues in recruitment

  • Barn Hill Station, WA.
    Barn Hill Station, WA. Photos courtesy of Wendy Abigail.
  • Mary Pool, WA.
    Mary Pool, WA. Photos courtesy of Wendy Abigail.
  • Open road.
    Open road. Photos courtesy of Wendy Abigail.

Dr Wendy Abigail’s rural upbringing led her to pursue postdoctoral-funded projects on women’s health in rural and regional locations. So how did her research focus move from women’s health to how grey nomads manage their diabetes when travelling for extended periods of time? Grey nomads are defined as people over 55 years of age, travelling for extended periods of time throughout Australia.

‘In 2014, my husband and I went on our first caravanning holiday up the centre of Australia. I&nbsp:was surprised with the number of older people travelling remotely who were not constrained by timeframes. This led me to thinking about how they managed their health while on the road.’

Funding options for women’s health had proved challenging to obtain, with many applications submitted and rejected. A small grant was eventually received. However, face-to-face recruitment was an issue.

Dr Abigail, a Senior Lecturer at Flinders University, Adelaide, reflects ‘My research assistant and I set up for a week in a rural caravan park. We proposed holding two focus groups for women over the age of 55 years. Recruitment was via flyers in the toilet blocks, laundry and camp kitchen. No-one turned up!’

The research was then broadened to chronic conditions in the grey nomad population and new research team members joined. However, just before a grant application was to be submitted, new research was published on this topic.

‘This caused the research team to revise the application at very short notice, but the application was submitted in time and was successful’ Dr Abigail reports.

The new project focused on diabetes management in the grey nomad population by interviewing healthcare providers in rural and remote areas. Recruitment for this project was via an email inviting health professionals to participate in an interview. Recruitment, however, was an issue.

‘We struggled to get participants and had to send out email reminders a number of times. We did not want to overburden healthcare professionals, but we also wanted to recruit enough participants for our research,’ Dr Abigail said.

Eventually, enough participants volunteered, with results showing that people with diabetes attended pharmacies before they sought advice or assistance from a diabetes educator.

Around this time, Dr Abigail retired, although she continues to have academic status at Flinders University, allowing her to continue contributing to research projects.

‘Once I retired, I was off on longer trips in our caravan talking more with other grey nomads. People like to share their stories and, even though I don’t ask how they manage their health, they are very forthcoming with sharing their experiences, particularly when they hear of my nursing background.’

A new chief investigator took over the grey nomad research. A successful grant from the Australian Diabetes Educators Association allowed research into the views and experiences of grey nomads with diabetes travelling in rural and remote areas, as well as the experiences of rural and remote pharmacists, to be conducted. As one of the research team, Dr Abigail was able to offer the additional skill of personal experience travelling with grey nomads. She was also able to utilise grey nomad social media sites as the recruitment method. However, recruitment was poor, possibly due to inconsistent, limited or expensive internet connections and often limited social media skills of grey nomads. Additionally, some social media sites were reluctant to share recruitment information and others limited recruitment to a single post, making accessibility for people on the move unfeasible. The recruitment period was extended and eventually enough participants responded.

Even though COVID-19 has impacted on grey nomads travelling around Australia, there are still large numbers of travellers where permitted. Future research into this population is warranted but successful recruitment will remain an issue.

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