Researchers to trial new intervention to prevent older people from being lonely during lockdown

Researchers are to trial an intervention aimed at preventing the onset of depression and loneliness among the most vulnerable in society as a result of the Covid-19 lockdown.

Enforced isolation, whether due to shielding or self-isolation, causes disruption to daily routines, loss of social contact and loneliness which can lead to mental ill-health. Many more people will now be isolated as the lockdown continues for particular sections of society.
Previous research has found that isolation is likely to impact significantly on the mental health of vulnerable populations. Older people, and those with long-term conditions, represent a high risk group, whose risk of depression is already increased by approximately two to three times.

Professor Carolyn Chew-Graham from Keele University is part of a National Institute Health Research (NIHR) funded research team which is led by Professor Simon Gilbody and Professor David Ekers from the University of York in partnership with the Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust and Hull York Medical School. The team will adapt an intervention and apply their expertise to tackle the problems of loneliness and social isolation during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The researchers have developed the MODS intervention, which is delivered by trained support workers, over the telephone, and over up to eight sessions. The impact of the treatment will be evaluated to see if depression symptoms can be prevented or improved, during the time of lockdown, and whether the intervention is acceptable to older adults and to support workers. The team will also evaluate whether this reduces levels of anxiety and feelings of loneliness.

The research team hope to deliver a brief and manualised intervention that can be delivered at scale in the UK and overseas.

Professor Chew-Graham, a GP and leading researcher in the mental health of older people, said: “Covid-19 will inevitably impact on the mental health of older people. We know that social isolation does not inevitably lead to depression and loneliness, but having physical health problems is a risk factor for depression, and the additional stress of social isolation or shielding may well cause people to suffer from low mood and anxiety. In this study, we will test how we can maintain older people’s mental health during this difficult time”.

Professor Gilbody, Director of the Mental Health & Addictions Research Group at the University of York, added: “Our University-NHS partnership is ideally placed to respond to new societal challenges of Covid-19. Older people and those with long term conditions have now entered enforced isolation, and this risks an explosion of loneliness and depression for this vulnerable population. We propose to rapidly adapt an existing programme to test whether our intervention can prevent and mitigate the onset of depression and loneliness among older people.”

Professor Ekers, Honorary Professor at the University of York and Clinical Director of Research and Development at Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust, said: “We have been researching in this area for the past ten years, and we are ideally placed to help establish ‘what works’ in maintaining good mental health during the lockdown. This represents a great alliance between the Universities and the NHS to address one of the major challenges posed by Covid-19”.