Putting Life In Years (PLINY): A Randomised Controlled Trial And Mixed-methods Process Evaluation Of A Telephone Friendship Intervention To Improve Mental Well-being In Independently Living Older People
Social isolation in older adults is associated with morbidity. Evaluating interventions to promote social engagement is a research priority.
A parallel-group randomised controlled trial was planned to evaluate whether telephone friendship (TF) improves the well-being of independently living older people. An internal pilot aimed to recruit 68 participants by 30 September 2012, with 80% retained at 6 months. Randomisation was web based and only analysts were blind to allocation. A service provider was contracted to train 10 volunteer facilitators by 1 April 2012 and 10 more by 1 September 2012. Participants were aged > 74 years with good cognitive function and living independently in an urban community. The intervention arm of the trial consisted of manualised TF with standardised training: (1) one-to-one befriending (10- to 20-minute calls once per week for up to 6 weeks made by volunteer facilitators) followed by (2) TF groups of six participants (1-hour teleconferences once per week for 12 weeks facilitated by the same volunteer). Friendship groups aimed to enhance social support and increase opportunities for social interaction to maintain well-being. This was compared with usual health and social care provision. The primary clinical outcome was the Short Form questionnaire-36 items (SF-36) mental health dimension score at 6 months post randomisation. Qualitative research assessing intervention acceptability (participants) and implementation issues (facilitators) and an intervention fidelity assessment were also carried out. Intervention implementation was documented through e-mails, meeting minutes and field notes. Acceptability was assessed through framework analysis of semistructured interviews. Two researchers coded audio recordings of telephone discussions for fidelity using a specially designed checklist.
In total, 157 people were randomised to the TF group (
Although the trial was unsuccessful for a range of logistical reasons, the experience gained is of value for the design and conduct of future trials. Participant recruitment and retention were feasible. Small voluntary sector organisations may be unable to recruit, train and retain adequate numbers of volunteers to implement new services at scale over a short time scale. Such risks might be mitigated by multicentre trials using multiple providers and specialists to recruit and manage volunteers.
Current Controlled Trials ISRCTN28645428.
This project was funded by the NIHR Public Health Research programme and will be published in full in