Peer-to-peer (P2P) support groups for adults age 65 and older aren’t any more beneficial in improving health and well-being than standard community services (SCS), according to a recent cohort study published in JAMA Psychiatry.

The study compared P2P support groups with SCS and the risk for increased hospitalization, urgent care, and emergency department use, as well as health and well-being. The longitudinal cohort study used community support programs in Los Angeles, California, Rochester, New York, and West Palm Beach, Florida. The researchers followed up with participants for 1 year, conducting additional assessments at 3, 6, 9, and 12 months. Health and well-being were measured at 6 and 12 months. A total of 372 individuals completed the study: 169 in the P2P group and 203 in the SCS group.

At baseline the SCS group reported significantly better mental health than the P2P group. Upon follow up, results were mixed. There was no clear pattern that showed an improvement in mental health and well-being through P2P support compared with SCS.


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The researchers speculated, however, whether the results would be different in a randomized trial. This type of study wasn’t conducted because the community partners did not feel it appropriate to withhold support from some participants. As another limitation, both groups were not equally matched in terms of social isolation, driving status, and social support. Researchers also questioned if participating in the study itself alleviated some feelings of loneliness and isolation due to the interaction with the study team.

“The results of this study did not show associations between P2P services and improvements in health and well-being over time,” the researchers concluded. “It may be that P2P programs do not help maintain or slow the decline of health and well-being in older adults. It is also possible that our failure to account for important differences between the groups at baseline is why we were not able to show clear patterns of association.”

Disclosure: One author reported receiving book royalties from Freiburg Press outside of the submitted work. No other disclosures were reported.

Reference

Schwei RJ, Hetzel S, Kim KM, et al. Peer-to-peer support and changes in health and well-being in older adults over timeJAMA Netw Open. Published online June 1, 2021. doi:10.1001/jamanetworkopen.2021.12441