ARC Yorkshire & Humber supported study finds that telephone-based care can prevent loneliness and depression in older people 

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The Behavioural Activation in Social IsoLlation trial or BASIL+ was a major clinical trial carried out during the COVID pandemic. The trial found that when older people received weekly phone calls over 8 weeks, their mental health and quality of life improved. They received calls from a specially trained coach who encouraged them to maintain their social connections and remain active.

BASIL+ was supported by two of the NIHR Applied Research Collaboration (ARC) Yorkshire and Humber Theme Leads and their teams. Professors Simon Gilbody and Andrew Clegg lead programmes of research through the ARC into physical health and mental health, particularly among older people and those with frailty. The study found that levels of depression reduced significantly and the benefits were greater than those seen for antidepressants.

Participants in the study reported their levels of emotional loneliness fell by 21% over three months and the benefits remained after the phone calls had stopped, suggesting a lasting impact.   

The BASIL+ trial started in the 2020 pandemic and was the largest trial ever carried out to target and measure loneliness in this way. The study, published in the journal The Lancet Healthy Longevity , is a major step forward in finding out what works to prevent loneliness.

People invited to take part in the study were aged over 65 with multiple long-term conditions. They were following COVID restrictions, including shielding, and were at a high risk of loneliness and depression.   

The study was one of two mental health trials prioritised by the NHS as part of its Urgent Public Health programme – a cornerstone of its fight against COVID.  435 older people were recruited to the trial from 26 sites across the UK during the COVID pandemic of 2020-21.  

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 ARC Yorkshire and Humber, Universities of Leeds, Keele, and Manchester. The charity AgeUK also supported the study.  

Professor Simon Gilbody, lead researcher, University of York and Hull York Medical School and ARC Yorkshire and Humber Theme Lead 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, the results of the trial are very promising.”

Professor Andrew Clegg added “The BASIL+ trial aligned perfectly with the priorities of both the Mental Health and Older People themes within the Yorkshire & Humber ARC. This enabled us to maximise collaboration across the different institutions and organisations to deliver such an important research study. We now hope to work closely with our ARC Yorkshire & Humber Implementation theme to understand more about how the results from BASIL+ could be translated into practice and in non-pandemic settings”. 

The NIHR Applied Research Collaboration Yorkshire and Humber conducts applied health research to improve the health and wellbeing of the 5.4 million people in the region. Bringing together expertise from universities, NHS trusts, local authorities and partners, the multidisciplinary team focuses on addressing the major health challenges faced by our population. We have four research themes aligned to regional and national priorities: Urgent Care, Older People, Healthy Families and Mental Health.

There is currently a cross governmental strategy to tackle loneliness, and as BASIL + is the largest trial ever undertaken to combat loneliness it is anticipated that the results will help to influence new policy and guidelines. 

For more information please visit: BASIL+ 

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