Weekly Telephone Calls: A Potential Cure for Loneliness and Depression Among Seniors

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Zara Nwosu
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Weekly Telephone Calls: A Potential Cure for Loneliness and Depression Among Seniors

Overview

In a recent study published in Lancet Healthy Longevity in February 2024, researchers from the University of York and Hull York Medical School in the U.K. have found that weekly telephone calls significantly improved mental health in isolated seniors. The study, co-led by Simon Gilbody and David Ekers, demonstrated a decrease in levels of depression and feelings of loneliness among seniors. A significant aspect of this study is its suggestion for the use of behavioral activation to mitigate depression and loneliness during health system shocks and population crises.

The study was funded by the National Institute for Health Care and Research, and both Simon Gilbody and David Ekers are members of the NICE Depression Guideline (update) Development Group. Nevertheless, the trial's generalizability is limited due to the lack of masking of the intervention received by the participants and the predominance of White individuals in the sample.

The Study and Its Findings

The BASIL+ study involved 435 seniors over the age of 65, who were enrolled during the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic. The participants received weekly phone calls from specially trained coaches over an eight-week period. Participants reported an improvement in their mental health even after the cessation of weekly phone calls. The study showed that levels of depression reduced significantly, with the benefits surpassing those seen for antidepressants. Emotional loneliness fell by 21% over a three-month period, and these benefits remained even after the phone calls had ended.

This study indicates that structured telephone-based psychological care delivered over a period of eight weeks can prevent depression and loneliness in older people. Notably, the research was prioritized by the NHS as part of its Urgent Public Health program and was supported by a 2.6M award from the National Institute for Health and Care Research (NIHR).

The Global Crisis of Loneliness

The University of Michigan's National Poll on Healthy Aging data from 2023 revealed that 34% of seniors reported feeling isolated from others either some of the time or often. The U.S. Surgeon General has released an advisory to highlight the crisis of social isolation, loneliness, and lack of connection in the U.S. The World Health Organization has also declared loneliness to be a global health concern, launching an international commission on the problem. This study, therefore, presents a scalable solution to this global issue, with potential benefits for the mental health of seniors.

Practical Tips for Combating Loneliness

Dr. Marcella Tabor, a physician in Charleston, emphasizes the need for deliberate efforts to connect with older adults to reduce feelings of loneliness and isolation. She suggests regular check-ins, offering rides, helping seniors with technology, volunteering, joining clubs and classes, staying active, connecting digitally, and performing acts of kindness.

In conclusion, the recent study led by Simon Gilbody and David Ekers provides valuable insights into combating loneliness and depression among seniors. The researchers emphasize the importance of prevention and suggest that a simple intervention such as weekly telephone calls could have a significant impact on the mental health of seniors, particularly during times of crisis.