With a $ 2.2 million grant from the National Institute of Mental Health, psychiatry researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical School announce the launch of WELL, a study to help prevent depression in older adults suffering from grief Loss of a spouse or life partner.
Depression often occurs in the months following a spouse’s death and can increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, dementia, and early death in older adults. Changes in day and night activity are also common, which can negatively affect the body’s biological clock or circadian rhythm. These disorders increase the likelihood of negative health outcomes, including depression.
WELL intends to recruit 150 participants aged 60 and over and an additional 100 participants whose spouse or partner has died of COVID-19. This is one of the first National Institutes of Health-funded studies examining depression and other health outcomes in older adults who have lost a spouse or partner to COVID-19.
Participation in the study is contactless and all assessments are carried out virtually or over the phone.
“Depressed older adults often have no reason to wake up, eat, or exercise regularly,” said Dr. Sarah T. Stahl, Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Clinical and Translational Science at Pitt’s School of Medicine and Senior Researcher at GUT. “Grief and healing after a loss is already a difficult process, but the pandemic has exacerbated grief by disrupting mourning rituals. Unfortunately, many people have now lost a spouse to COVID-19 and we think it is especially important to try to intervene and support this group. “
WELL will last five years and participants will be randomized into one of two groups. The first will use a website to monitor their sleep, meals, and physical activity daily for 12 weeks. You will also receive support from a health coach to help make lifestyle changes. The other group receives weekly phone calls from study staff who provide simple recommendations.
In addition to comparing interventions to reduce depression, researchers will also look closely at how the circadian rhythm of resting activity can be used to understand the risk of depression in older survivors.
“We believe that making simple changes to adults’ daily routine during this difficult time can promote emotional health and reduce feelings of depression,” added Stahl.
Other Pitt researchers are Dr. Stephen Smagula of the Pitt Center for Sleep and Circadian Science and Dr. Bruce Rollman, UPMC Endowed Chair of General Internal Medicine. WELL is a collaboration between researchers from Pitt, the University of Arizona at Tucson, and Emory University.
For details on the study, call 412-440-8418, visit www.pittWELLstudy.com, or email Stahl at Sarah.Stahl@pitt.edu. All calls are confidential.