Simple Talking Therapy Relieves Loneliness in Elderly

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A simple form of talking therapy, delivered telephonically by trained support workers, successfully reduced loneliness in older people left isolated during the pandemic, according to initial results from a new study.

The intervention lasted for eight weeks and was designed in partnership with older people. People were contacted weekly and were encouraged to maintain their social contacts and to stick to a daily schedule, which included both routine and enjoyable activities.

The intervention developed in the BASIL-C19 (Behavioural Activation in Social Isolation) study lasted for eight weeks and was designed in partnership with older people who had direct experience of social isolation, loneliness and depression during the pandemic.  

The importance of social connection was highlighted by the COVID pandemic and its restrictions. Pre-pandemic research identified 1.4 million older adults in England as experiencing significant loneliness with impacts on their mental health.  Research since the pandemic shows that rates of loneliness and depression have increased, particularly for those who were self-isolating.

A team of leading researchers and clinicians anticipated the impacts of the pandemic on mental health and re-focussed their research expertise to examine the psychological impact of enforced isolation, disruption to daily routines, loss of social contact and loneliness.

They designed a very brief telephone delivered intervention to combat depression and loneliness.  Older people appreciated the offer of telephone contact and they found the intervention to be helpful in maintaining daily routines and social contact.

In the preliminary results, published in PLOS Medicine, the research team found evidence of improved mental health, and a strong indication that loneliness rates were substantially reduced in the first three months. A much larger trial follow-on trial is now currently recruiting over 600 older people and is the largest study ever undertaken to tackle loneliness and depression in this way.  

Source: University of York

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