‘Putting Life in Years’ (PLINY) telephone friendship groups research study: pilot randomised controlled trial

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Danny Hind, Rebecca Gossage-Worrall, Cindy Cooper, Saleema Rex and Stephen Walters, along with the Chief Investigator Professor Gail Mountain (in Health Services Research) and other colleagues in SchARR and elsewhere have recently been involved in the analysis and reporting of a pilot randomised controlled trial (RCT) to assess the feasibility of a trial to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of telephone befriending for the maintenance of health related quality of life (HRQoL) in older people.

‘Putting Life in Years’ (PLINY) telephone friendship groups research study: pilot randomised controlled trial

Gail A Mountain, Daniel Hind, Rebecca Gossage-Worrall, Stephen J Walters, Rosie Duncan, Louise Newbould, Saleema Rex, Carys Jones, Ann Bowling, Mima Cattan, Angela Cairns, Cindy Cooper, Rhiannon Tudor Edwards and Elizabeth C Goyder

Trials 2014, 15:141 doi:10.1186/1745-6215-15-141

Loneliness in older people is associated with poor health-related quality of life (HRQoL).  We undertook an internal pilot randomised controlled trial to test the feasibility of carrying out a larger trial to evaluate the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of telephone befriending for the maintenance of HRQoL in older people. Participants aged 74 years or more, with good cognitive function, living independently in Sheffield were recruited through general practices and other sources, then randomised to: (1) 6 weeks of short one-to-one telephone calls, followed by 12 weeks of group telephone calls with up to six participants, led by a trained volunteer facilitator; or (2) a control group.  The primary health related quality of life outcome was the Short Form (36) Health Instrument (SF-36) Mental Health (MH) dimension score collected by telephone 6 months following randomisation.

Seventy consenting participants were randomised in the pilot to receive telephone befriending or to the control group (35 in each group). Fifty-six (26 intervention: 30 control) participants had follow-up outcome data for statistical analysis. Twenty-four participants randomly allocated to the research arm actually received telephone befriending due to poor recruitment and retention of volunteer facilitators.  Sadly the main trial was closed early when targets for recruitment and training of volunteer interventionists were unmet, leaving seven out of ten participants randomised to the intervention unable to receive it more than three months after randomisation. The mean six-month SF-36 Mental Health scores were 78 (Standard deviation (SD) 18) and 71 (SD 21) for the intervention and control groups, respectively (a mean difference of 7 points; 95% Confidence Interval, -3 to 16).

The research team concluded that it is feasible to recruit and retain participants aged 75 years or more for an RCT evaluating a volunteer-led telephone friendship group intervention for the maintenance of good mental health. Unfortunately failure to deliver the telephone befriending intervention to the majority of participants randomised to receive the intervention led to the early termination of the trial.

The RCT was funded by the NIHR Public Health Research (PHR) Programme.