Phone support group helps older people with HIV/AIDS develop coping skills, new study finds

ATHENS, Ohio More than 90,000 people in the United States are over the age of 50 at the time they are diagnosed with AIDS and at least 25 percent of them suffer from depression. But a new Ohio University study suggests that a telephone support group can lessen stress and improve the coping skills of older adults living with the disease.

In the pilot study, which will be presented this Saturday at the National Association of HIV Over Fifty Conference in Scottsdale, Az., 23 older adults who had been diagnosed with depression participated in a 12-week telephone support group. The participants, who were recruited through AIDS service organizations in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and Arizona, discussed life stressors and issues related to aging with HIV/AIDS. Licensed social workers offered advice about coping mechanisms and ways to seek support for health problems.

Those involved in the 12-session program reported greater reductions in stress and suicidal thoughts and an increase in coping skills, compared to a control group of 21 people who did not participate in the support group, said Timothy Heckman, an Ohio University health psychologist and lead author of the study.

The telephone intervention program appealed to participants who were too geographically remote from or physically unable to drive to standard support groups or counseling services, as well as those who were concerned about confidentiality issues. The telephone is one way to circumvent some or all of those barriers, Heckman said. "Many of our participants noted that they don't have to dress up, drive in and try to present a good image when everything is not well," he said. "The telephone is financially and psychologically easier."

The study is funded by a two-year, $435,000 grant from the National Institute on Aging to evaluate the ability of the telephone-delivered mental health intervention to improve the quality of life of older persons living with HIV/AIDS who have

Contact: Andrea Gibson
Ohio University

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