Researchers at the University of Washington School of Public Health have partnered with local, state and national organizations to help diverse elderly populations manage depression and social isolation.
For more than a decade, the Health Promotion Research Center (HPRC) within the School’s department of health services has disseminated a highly effective depression care management program called PEARLS, or Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives.
Through a series of house calls with PEARLS counselors, participants learn to recognize symptoms of depression and work through unsolved problems. Participants also learn to engage in social and physical activities that interest them, get them out of the house and empower them to socialize with others.
To date, more than 800 people from 70 community-based agencies across the country have been trained to implement PEARLS. Agencies include aging and social services, senior centers and community mental health organizations. HPRC, a Prevention Research Center of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, provides technical assistance to PEARLS programs to help further their learning long after the training.
“HPRC continues to work closely with PEARLS programs around the country to learn from each other through success stories and to troubleshoot implementation challenges,” said Dr. Lesley Steinman, a research scientist at HPRC and PEARLS program lead. “We often discuss how to better connect PEARLS with hard-to-reach communities.”
HPRC is working closely with Florida Health Networks to develop a PEARLS master training model to be piloted early next year. The pair recently received a $20,000 award from the UW Latino Center for Health, as part of their new small grants program, to evaluate PEARLS with elderly Latinos and Spanish-speakers.
“We’ll be interviewing bilingual and bicultural PEARLS providers as well as older Latino PEARLS participants to learn more about how the program works, what adaptations are needed and how the program can be improved to better reach this community,” Dr. Steinman said about the one-year program.
HPRC is also working with UW CoMotion and the New York City Department of Mental Health and Hygiene to provide technical assistance and training for PEARLS across New York City. The goal is to engage underserved elders, including immigrants with limited-English proficiency, racial and ethnic minorities, the LGBTQ community, and older adults with substance abuse needs.
What’s more, HPRC continues to forge partnerships in Washington to expand PEARLS for people living with multiple chronic conditions as well as older military veterans, veteran spouses and widows/widowers.