Effects of volunteering over six months on loneliness, social and mental health outcomes among older adults: The HEAL-HOA dual randomized controlled trial

Lisa M. WARNER, Dannii Yuen-lan YEUNG, Da JIANG, Namkee G. CHOI, Rainbow Tin Hung HO, Jojo Yan Yan KWOK, Kee Lee CHOU

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1 Citation (Scopus)

Abstract

Objective: To determine the beneficial effects of volunteering as lay counselor via telephone on own loneliness, social network engagement, perceived social support, stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms among Chinese older adults in Hong Kong during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Design, Setting, Intervention, and Participants: “Helping Alleviate Loneliness in Hong Kong Older Adults” (HEAL-HOA), a dual randomized controlled trial, was implemented to test effects of telephone-based psychosocial interventions delivered by older-adult volunteers for low-income lonely older adults. To evaluate the effects of volunteering on loneliness, we randomized 375 individuals ages 50–70 into a volunteering condition versus an active control (psychoeducation with social gatherings). Following a 6-week training, participants in the volunteering condition, delivered tele-interventions to older intervention recipients. 

Measurement: The primary outcome was loneliness measured with the UCLA Loneliness Scale. Secondary outcomes were loneliness measured with the De Jong Gierveld Scale (DJG), social network engagement, perceived social support, perceived stress, anxiety, and depressive symptoms. Assessments were completed before training (baseline) and immediately after the 6-month volunteering period. 

Results: Results from linear mixed models show significant positive effects of volunteering (significant interactions of condition × time) on both measures of loneliness (dppc2 = -0.41 ULCA Loneliness score, dppc2 = -0.70 total DJG score), social network engagement, stress and depressive symptoms as compared to control participants. 

Conclusions: The HEAL-HOA trial demonstrates beneficial effects of volunteer-delivered tele-interventions on decreasing loneliness on the volunteer interventionists themselves. Communicating these benefits for volunteers may attract more older adults into volunteering. This effective tele-based volunteer program is scalable for wider implementation. 

Summary: This RCT tested effects of volunteering on loneliness in Hong Kong during the COVID-19-pandemic. Three hundred seventy-five individuals ages 50–70 were randomized into volunteering (delivering tele-interventions against loneliness) versus an active control condition. After 6 months, volunteers compared to controls, showed benefits on loneliness, social network engagement, stress and depressive symptoms. A program engaging lonely older adults in loneliness intervention delivery has beneficial effects on volunteers themselves and could be a scalable solution for our loneliness epidemic. Copyright © 2024 American Association for Geriatric Psychiatry. Published by Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
JournalThe American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry
Early online dateDec 2023
DOIs
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - Dec 2023

Citation

Warner, L. M., Yeung, D. Y.-L., Jiang, D., Choi, N. G., Ho, R. T. H., Kwok, J. Y. Y., & Chou, K.-L. (2023). Effects of volunteering over six months on loneliness, social and mental health outcomes among older adults: The HEAL-HOA dual randomized controlled trial. The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry. Advance online publication. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jagp.2023.12.022

Keywords

  • Loneliness
  • Older adults
  • Volunteerism
  • Perceived social support
  • RCT
  • Stress, depressive symptoms, civic engagement

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