PRP167: Tackling Loneliness in Communities through Community-based Partnerships
Rebecca Mullen, MD, MPH; Maret Felzien; Tamara Oser, MD; Linda Zittleman, MSPH
Context: Loneliness is a significant public health concern in the US; however, little is known about the experience of loneliness in rural areas. Community engagement in research is essential to collaboratively develop meaningful research questions, increase the relevance of a project, enhance adoption of results, and inform future efforts around combating loneliness in rural areas. Objective: Establish a partnership to develop a community-generated, locally-relevant translational research question specific to loneliness in eastern Colorado. Study Design: A partnership development award to use community-based participatory research principles, including acknowledging the community as an identity and facilitating an equitable partnership in all phases of the project. Setting: High Plains Research Network (HPRN), which covers 16 rural and frontier counties in eastern Colorado. Population: The 13-member HPRN Community Advisory Council (C.A.C.), a grassroots group established in 2003 consists of ranchers, teachers, small business managers, students, practice staff, retirees, and others who live in the HPRN region; the HPRN staff; and a University-based clinician-researcher. Intervention: In-person work meetings, led jointly by the academic researcher and a C.A.C. member, elicited CAC members’ thoughts, experiences, and questions about loneliness in rural Colorado, along with brief, single-task phone meetings with a workgroup to maintain momentum between meetings. Outcome measures: Thematic analysis of three full CAC group meetings and five workgroup phone meeting discussions and notes. Results: Preliminary results illustrate that rural community members are interested in the distinction between loneliness and being alone, associations between loneliness, social media, and coping skills, and the experience of loneliness among various demographics such as teens, new moms, rurally isolated and individuals in transitional life stages. The group will formulate its research question and identify next steps. Conclusions: Community-engaged research is an appropriate method for developing equitable partnership between academic and community groups. This method can be utilized to generate locally relevant community-based research questions. Support for community members and academic researchers to establish a foundational relationship and learn together about a topic relevant to the community is essential to successful, long-term research partnerships.