In order to design and implement successful lifestyle interventions for older adults, it’s important to understand the mechanisms that contribute to their success. A recent study took a closer look at Lifestyle Redesign, an evidence-based behavioral lifestyle intervention that has been shown to reduce depressive symptoms in older adults. This program involves weekly group sessions on topics such as aging and health, transportation, safety, and social connections, and includes outings where participants gain direct experience with the week’s topic. In the latest study, researchers asked participants questions to determine which factors of the program contributed to its success.
The researchers primarily focused on activity frequency and activity significance, or the degree to which participants considered an activity as important or having benefits for personal health and wellness. To get a better idea of how these factors could lead to improved well-being, the researchers examined the psychological mechanisms of social connections and perceived control, or the belief that one’s own efforts can bring about desired outcomes.
As in previous evaluations of the Lifestyle Redesign program, participants showed a significant decrease in depressive symptoms. When researchers added activity frequency to the equation, they found the intervention led to an increase in activity frequency, which predicted decreased depressive symptoms in participants. Similarly, the intervention led to a more positive perception of activity significance, which also predicted decreased depressive symptoms. The effect sizes of both factors were the same.
As for the underlying psychological variables, both social connections and perceived control also predicted decreased depressive symptoms. The researchers also found that increased activity frequency predicted an increase in social connections but not perceived control, whereas increased activity significance predicted an increase in perceived control, but not increased social connections.
The importance of social interaction became clear when comparing the activities that participants engaged in after the intervention compared to those of a control group; intervention participants engaged more frequently in socializing with friends and family, helping others, taking or teaching classes, creative activities, talking on the phone, and shopping.
For those in aging services who are designing or implementing interventions, these findings point to areas that can be emphasized in order to make an intervention more successful.
Juang C, Knight BG, Carlson M, et al. Understanding the mechanisms of change in a lifestyle intervention for older adults. The Gerontologist. (2017). DOI: 10.1093/geront/gnw152