ImportanceOlder adults who are homebound and have low income have limited access to psychosocial treatments because of their homebound state and geriatric mental health workforce shortages.
ObjectiveTo evaluate clinical effectiveness of a brief, aging service-integrated, videoconferenced behavioral activation (tele-BA) treatment delivered by lay counselors compared with videoconferenced problem-solving therapy (tele-PST) delivered by licensed clinicians and attention control (AC; telephone support calls).
Design, setting, and participantsThis 3-group randomized clinical trial using a randomization prior to consent approach included individuals aged 50 years or older who were homebound and had 24-item Hamilton Depression Rating Scale (HAMD) scores of 15 or greater between February 15, 2016, and April 15, 2019. Tele-BA and tele-PST participants received 5 weekly treatment sessions. Assessments were performed at baseline and 12, 24, and 36 weeks after baseline. Intention-to-treat statistical analyses were performed from January 1, 2020, to February 15, 2020.
InterventionsTele-BA participants were taught 5 steps for reinforcing healthy behaviors to improve mood, physical functioning, and social engagement. Tele-PST participants were taught a 7-step approach for problem solving coping skills.
Main outcomes and measuresThe primary outcome was the 24-item HAMD scores. Response (ie, ≥50% reduction in HAMD) and remission (ie, HAMD <10) rates and effect sizes for clinically meaningful differences were examined. Secondary outcomes were disability, social engagement and activity frequency, and satisfaction with participation in social roles.
ResultsA total of 277 participants were enrolled, including 193 (69.7%) women, 83 (30.0%) who were Black, 81 (29.2%) who were Hispanic, and 255 (92.1%) with income of $35 000 or less. The mean (SD) age was 67.5 (8.9) years. Among these, 90 participants were randomized to tele-BA, 93 participants were randomized to tele-PST, and 94 participants were randomized to the AC. Compared with participants in the AC group, participants in the tele-BA and tele-PST groups had significantly higher response and remission rates and medium to large effect sizes (tele-BA: raw growth modeling analysis d = 0.62 [95% CI, 0.35 to 0.89]; P < .001; tele-PST: raw growth modeling analysis d = 1.00 [95% CI, 0.73 to 1.26]; P < .001) for HAMD scores. While tele-PST was significantly more effective than tele-BA for reducing HAMD scores (t258 = -2.79; P = .006), there was no difference between tele-BA and tele-PST on secondary outcomes.
Conclusions and relevanceIn this randomized clinical trial, participants who received tele-BA by lay counselors achieved statistically and clinically meaningful changes in depressive symptoms. Given shortages of licensed mental health clinicians, tele- and lay counselor-delivered services may help improve access to evidence-based depression treatment for large numbers of underserved older adults.
Trial registrationClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT02600754.