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BASIL+ trial: loneliness and depression can be prevented in older adults with telephone intervention

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2 February 2024

The Behavioural Activation in Social Isolation trial ran during the COVID pandemic and found that the mental health and quality of life improved for older people who received the structured telephone-based psychological care.

The trial aimed to combat the increased risk of depression and loneliness amongst older adults due to social isolation experienced from the COVID-19 pandemic in the UK. The pragmatic randomised controlled trial investigated whether the effects could be mitigated by a behavioural activation intervention delivered via telephone.

Patients aged over 65 with multiple long-term conditions and deemed at higher risk due to shielding during the pandemic were recruited from general practices in England and Wales and randomised to receive the intervention of weekly phone calls over 8 weeks.

Results from the study, now published in the Lancet Health Longevity (February 2024), showed that levels of depression in those receiving the telephone-based intervention reduced significantly and the benefits were greater than those seen for antidepressants. Emotional loneliness levels fell by 21% over three months and remained lower after the phone call schedule was completed.

Professor Simon Gilbody, lead researcher, University of York and Hull York Medical School said:

“We now know that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day and depression is a silent killer.  All of us working on the BASIL+ trial had older parents and relatives who became socially isolated during lockdown.”

Professor Lucy Chappell, CEO of the NIHR and Chief Scientific Adviser for the Department of Health and Social Care, commented on the study results, saying:

"These results are an important step forward in understanding what works in tackling and preventing loneliness and depression. The research is also a great example of how public money allows researchers, healthcare professionals and the public to work together across institutions and organisations to deliver results that will really make a difference to people's health and wellbeing."

The study was led by a team from the University of York and Hull York Medical School and Tees, Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust. The BASIL+ partnership also included leading researchers from the Universities of Leeds, Keele, and Manchester.

This project was funded by the NIHR Programme Grants for Applied Research (PGfAR) programme. The charity AgeUK also supported the study. 

The study results have been published in the Lancet Health Longevity (February 2024). The paper is available to read: Behavioural activation to mitigate the psychological impacts of COVID-19 restrictions on older people in England and Wales (BASIL+): a pragmatic randomised controlled trial

Further information on the results of the study are also available from the National Institute of Health and Care Research: Telephone-based care can prevent loneliness and depression finds major study



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