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Behavioural activation to prevent depression and loneliness among socially isolated older people with long-term conditions: The BASIL COVID-19 pilot randomised controlled trial


GILBODY Simon, et al


Plos Publications

Background: Older adults, including those with long-term conditions (LTCs), are vulnerable to social isolation. They are likely to have become more socially isolated during the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, often due to advice to “shield” to protect them from infection. This places them at particular risk of depression and loneliness. There is a need for brief scalable psychosocial interventions to mitigate the psychological impacts of social isolation. Behavioural activation (BA) is a credible candidate intervention, but a trial is needed. Methods and findings: this study undertook an external pilot parallel randomised trial (ISRCTN94091479) designed to test recruitment, retention and engagement with, and the acceptability and preliminary effects of the intervention. Participants aged ≥65 years with 2 or more LTCs were recruited in primary care and randomised by computer and with concealed allocation between June and October 2020. BA was offered to intervention participants (n = 47), and control participants received usual primary care (n = 49). Assessment of outcome was made blind to treatment allocation. The primary outcome was depression severity (measured using the Patient Health Questionnaire 9 (PHQ-9)). This study also measured health-related quality of life (measured by the Short Form (SF)-12v2 mental component scale (MCS) and physical component scale (PCS)), anxiety (measured by the Generalised Anxiety Disorder 7 (GAD-7)), perceived social and emotional loneliness (measured by the De Jong Gierveld Scale: 11-item loneliness scale). Outcome was measured at 1 and 3 months. The mean age of participants was aged 74 years (standard deviation (SD) 5.5) and they were mostly White (n = 92, 95.8%), and approximately two-thirds of the sample were female (n = 59, 61.5%). Remote recruitment was possible, and 45/47 (95.7%) randomised to the intervention completed 1 or more sessions (median 6 sessions) out of 8. A total of 90 (93.8%) completed the 1-month follow-up, and 86 (89.6%) completed the 3-month follow-up, with similar rates for control (1 month: 45/49 and 3 months 44/49) and intervention (1 month: 45/47and 3 months: 42/47) follow-up. Between-group comparisons were made using a confidence interval (CI) approach, and by adjusting for the covariate of interest at baseline. At 1 month (the primary clinical outcome point), the median number of completed sessions for people receiving the BA intervention was 3, and almost all participants were still receiving the BA intervention. The between-group comparison for the primary clinical outcome at 1 month was an adjusted between-group mean difference of −0.50 PHQ-9 points (95% CI −2.01 to 1.01), but only a small number of participants had completed the intervention at this point. At 3 months, the PHQ-9 adjusted mean difference (AMD) was 0.19 (95% CI −1.36 to 1.75). When we examined loneliness, the adjusted between-group difference in the De Jong Gierveld Loneliness Scale at 1 month was 0.28 (95% CI −0.51 to 1.06) and at 3 months −0.87 (95% CI −1.56 to −0.18), suggesting evidence of benefit of the intervention at this time point. For anxiety, the GAD adjusted between-group difference at 1 month was 0.20 (−1.33, 1.73) and at 3 months 0.31 (−1.08, 1.70). For the SF-12 (physical component score), the adjusted between-group difference at 1 month was 0.34 (−4.17, 4.85) and at 3 months 0.11 (−4.46, 4.67). For the SF-12 (mental component score), the adjusted between-group difference at 1 month was 1.91 (−2.64, 5.15) and at 3 months 1.26 (−2.64, 5.15). Participants who withdrew had minimal depressive symptoms at entry. There were no adverse events. The Behavioural Activation in Social Isolation (BASIL) study had 2 main limitations. First, this study found that the intervention was still being delivered at the prespecified primary outcome point, and this fed into the design of the main trial where a primary outcome of 3 months is now collected. Second, this was a pilot trial and was not designed to test between-group differences with high levels of statistical power. Type 2 errors are likely to have occurred, and a larger trial is now underway to test for robust effects and replicate signals of effectiveness in important secondary outcomes such as loneliness. Conclusions: this study observed that BA is a credible intervention to mitigate the psychological impacts of COVID-19 isolation for older adults. This study demonstrated that it is feasible to undertake a trial of BA. The intervention can be delivered remotely and at scale, but should be reserved for older adults with evidence of depressive symptoms. The significant reduction in loneliness is unlikely to be a chance finding, and replication will be explored in a fully powered randomised controlled trial (RCT). (Edited publisher abstract)

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