PEARLS Connect study update

PEARLS treats older adults depression

There is strong evidence that PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active, Rewarding Lives) is an effective model to treat late-life depression in low-income older adults with multiple chronic conditions. Our new PEARLS Connect study, funded by the AARP Foundation, is working to evaluate whether PEARLS is also effective for reducing social isolation in older adults. Social isolation can have a major impact on health and well-being, so older persons, providers, and policymakers are all interested in ways to reduce it.

For this study, HPRC researchers are partnering with community-based organizations in Washington, Florida, Maryland, New York, and California to gather before-and-after data from PEARLS participants on their social isolation/support, as well as health status and demographics. We will also ask some PEARLS participants to engage in longer phone interviews to gain deeper insights and stories about their experiences with social isolation.

A priority of this study is to engage older adults (ages 50+) from a range of backgrounds and settings, including racial/ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, rural residents, those living with disabilities, and persons most comfortable speaking languages other than English. To this end, we have chosen our partner regions carefully, to gain perspectives from a variety of community settings. We have also translated our survey instrument into five languages (in addition to English), and are hiring a team of multilingual interpreters to assist us with follow-up data collection.

In 2017 a great deal of formative work was completed. We selected our social isolation measures, piloted the measures with Washington state PEARLS participants, selected partner regions, and laid the collaborative groundwork with them in preparation for data collection. This year we started baseline data collection in Washington, Florida, Maryland, and New York, and will soon launch in California. Follow-up data collection will begin this spring, and will continue into 2019.

“The questions about having friends nearby were hard.” ~ PEARLS participant

So far, we are hearing from both PEARLS counselors and PEARLS participants that the social isolation survey can be emotionally challenging, but that it is a useful tool to help participants identify core problems they wish to solve. For example, during our pilot of the questions in Washington, one participant commented, “The questions about having friends nearby were hard. Two weeks ago was the first time I was able to get out at night in about four years because of my husband. He’s OK during the day, but he has Sundowner’s and has delirium in the evening, so I can never leave.”

We look forward to gathering and analyzing data about the PEARLS program and its effects on social isolation; stay tuned for future updates.