Oct 7, 2021 - News
Researchers: Calls to the elderly can reduce anxiety
A person uses a walker to navigate a doorway.
Photo: Ute Grabowsky/Photothek via Getty Images

Regular calls to elderly people can reduce their loneliness, depression and anxiety, University of Texas researchers have found.

Driving the news: We all know folks — especially older, single people — who feel isolated and depressed — recently even more with the rise of the COVID variants.

What they found: Having arranged daily phone calls pairing 240 adults, most over age 65, with 17- to 23-year-olds, researchers found in a February paper in JAMA Psychiatry that conversations "focused on empathetic listening" improved seniors' mental health.

  • "I hope it encourages every person who's thought twice about calling their parents or their older family members," Maninder Kahlon, the principal author, told the American Medical Association. "Go ahead and do it, because you're really making a difference on very specific scales that your doctor would say, 'Wow, you did better than me even.' So go ahead and do it."
  • Research collaborator Steven Tomlinson, professor at Seminary of the Southwest, trained the participants to listen carefully and follow up on clues left by their call partner.
  • If someone mentioned a neighbor, for example, ask for details about that person. "Listening to those clues allows you to ask very specific questions—not abstract questions—about the content that they're already telling you," Kahlon said.

How you can help: Sunshine Calls for Mental Health, a spin-off of the researchers findings, is partnering with Meals-on-Wheels of Central Texas to pair volunteers with older, isolated adults.

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