PHILADELPHIA (TBEN) – Talking to someone on the phone for 10 minutes several times a week – if you control the conversation – can decrease loneliness, a new study has found. Half of the 240 study participants were selected to receive brief phone calls from volunteers over the course of a month, and they reported feeling 20% less lonely on average, according to the study published Tuesday in the journal JAMA. Psychiatry.
Volunteers were briefly trained in empathic communication skills, which involved active listening and asking questions about what their subject was talking about, said lead study author Maninder “Mini” Kahlon, associate professor of population health. and Executive Director of Factor Health at Dell Medical School at The University of Texas at Austin.
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Study participants, all customers of Meals on Wheels Central Texas, led the conversations, which enabled them to set the agenda for the appeals.
“Sometimes the agenda just feels like they’re in control,” Kahlon said.
They may not have control over other aspects of their life, but they can control the conversation, she said.
The first week, the volunteers called participants five days a week, at times they felt were best for them. Over the following weeks, participants opted to receive as few as two calls per week or as many as five.
Conversations lasted just over 10 minutes the first week, Kahlon said, but they leveled out at 10 minutes for the remainder of the study month. Participants touched on a variety of topics, including their own daily lives, and asked questions about the lives of their volunteers.
Both participants who received phone calls and the control group who had no loneliness, anxiety and depression measured on scientific scales at the beginning and end of the month. The researchers also measured the anxiety and depression of the study subjects, as these disorders could also be affected by the calls, Kahlon said.
On the three-question UCLA Loneliness Scale, which runs from three to nine, participants in the phone call had an average of 6.5 at the start and ended with a 5.2.
There is no standardized way to interpret how clinically meaningful a change is, Kahlon said, but the number of participants has dropped significantly “which means we really had a significant impact on them.” , she said.
Anxiety and depression saw an even greater decrease, with a decrease of over 30% on the GAD-7 scale and a decrease of almost 24% on the PHQ-8 scale, respectively.
These results were “even more striking than the impact of loneliness, because we weren’t necessarily expecting this degree of results,” Kahlon said.
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This study is promising and can help guide how people translate evidence into practice, said Julianne Holt-Lunstad, professor of psychology and neuroscience at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah, who was not involved. in the study.
She said she had seen many community-based approaches to reducing loneliness, but it was rare to find one clinically tested.
Holt-Lunstad said she wanted the emotional levels of the volunteers to be measured in addition to the phone call and control group participants, as they may also have seen positive emotional changes.
“Some research suggests that providing support and volunteering can also have a significant impact on some of these same outcomes, including loneliness,” said Holt-Lunstad.
It’s important to reach out to family and friends in your life who you think may be feeling down, Kahlon said.
“I really try to work on my communication with my mom,” she says, and she tries to prioritize listening to her loved ones and allowing them to lead the conversations.
If you are feeling lonely, Kahlon has recommended that you reach out to a member of your family and trusted networks of friends to talk to them.
It can be difficult because “the reality is it can only happen if there is someone else who is interested in you,” she said.
She suggested looking at your network and contacting who you think will be “non-judgmental and genuinely interested in hearing from you”.
Kahlon’s goal is to continue to test this method of programming and apply it on a larger scale so that more people can benefit from the results.
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