The University of Washington School of Public Health’s Health Promotion Research Center (HPRC) has once again been awarded funding as part of a select group of national prevention research centers.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is awarding HPRC $3.75 million over five years to conduct research on healthy aging, including core research to expand an evidence-based treatment for late-life depression known as the Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives (PEARLS).
HPRC will be one of 25 CDC Prevention Research Centers (PRCs) across the country in the new funding cycle and is one of the original PRCs, receiving continuous funding since 1986. HPRC is housed in the Department of Health Services in the School of Public Health and focuses on research in older adult health promotion, workplace wellness, and cancer prevention and control.
“The PRC Program supports our vital research, including providing effective programs to underserved communities who need them most,” said HPRC Director and Principal Investigator Peggy Hannon. “A critical component of this work is engaging with community members and the organizations that serve them so that we can ensure the programs fit community needs. Our PRC funding also supports these essential partnerships, which will inform every aspect of our new research project.”
Core Research: Treating Late-Life Depression
About one in five older Americans, age 65 and older, experience some form of depression, according to the CDC. This major public health concern often goes unrecognized or undertreated for socially marginalized older adults because of inequities in access to care. Now, HPRC wants to study how to better connect this population with PEARLS, an evidence-based program that can help.
HPRC and the area agency on aging for Seattle and King County (Aging and Disability Services) developed the PEARLS program during the late 1990s. Since then, about 6,000 older adults have participated in the program, which involves talk therapy and social support. PEARLS is now offered by community-based social service organizations where providers are trained by HPRC staff or partners to become PEARLS counselors. Those counselors work one-on-one with older adults in their homes, to help them build problem-solving skills and plan meaningful activities that can reduce their depressive symptoms. PEARLS counselors offer the program — which involves six to eight sessions — as an alternative to specialty mental health programs that may be difficult to access or not preferred as a first line of care by many older adults.
New core research with PEARLS will focus on expanding the program with underserved populations by partnering with organizations who are already serving and doing work with these populations. More than 70 organizations currently offer PEARLS in 15 states. Within three years, researchers aim to have nearly 80 new organizations actively seeing PEARLS participants.
The ultimate goal is to help provide equitable access to depression care. Priority populations for the study include older adults who are experiencing poverty, community members of color, people with limited English proficiency, and/or those living in rural areas.
“We need more intentional strategies to reach underserved older adults through the organizations that serve them,” said Project Director Lesley Steinman. “We are hopeful this research can help move the needle on reducing inequities in access to care faced by far too many older adults.”
Steinman and Principal Investigator Mark Snowden — along with HPRC faculty, staff, and students — have partnered with community-based organizations on PEARLS research and practice since 2004. Snowden echoed Steinman’s view on the importance of their new research project.
“This will give us a chance to more directly work with organizations serving people who are experiencing health inequity because of who they are, where they live, and where they work,” Snowden said. “Partnering with these organizations will teach us a lot about how to overcome barriers in health equity.”
Snowden is a board-certified psychiatrist with UW Medicine at Harborview Medical Center and a UW professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Dr. Snowden specializes in geriatric psychiatry.
The University of Washington Health Promotion Research Center (HPRC), a CDC Prevention Research Center for 33 years, conducts community-based research that promotes the health and well-being of middle-aged and older adults, particularly those with lower incomes and in ethnic and cultural minority populations most at risk of health disparities. The center is able to fulfill its mission by partnering with organizations that reach large numbers of individuals, including nonprofits, employers, business groups, community networks, and governmental agencies. HPRC is housed in the UW Department of Health Services in the School of Public Health.