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Spotlight on Innovations and Achievements: Area Agency on Aging of Tarrant County

Learn how this agency launched a peer-to-peer continued care model, which provided ways for homebound older adults facing depression to connect with peers, build relationships, practice new skills and improve their mental health.

We're proud to highlight the award-winning work of the 2020 winners of n4a's Aging Innovations and Achievement Awards in this weekly spotlight feature. This week, we are focusing on the Area Agency on Aging of Tarrant County's PEARLS Connect program. The agency was a 2020 Aging Achievement Award winner in the Social Engagement category. The 2020 AIA Awards were made possible thanks to the support of Centene.
 
Social isolation and loneliness can have a profound effect on the lives of older adults. In addition to reducing quality of life, loneliness increases the risk of health problems, loss of function in terms of self-care and mobility activities and shorter life expectancy. Recognizing the need for in-home programs to reach homebound older adults facing late-life depression, the Area Agency on Aging of Tarrant County (AAATC) worked with The Women's Center to launch PEARLS Connect, a peer-to-peer continued care model. PEARLS Connect builds on the Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives (PEARLS) methodology by providing ways for older adults to connect with peers and build networks. The ongoing engagement increases social connection and provides older adults with opportunities to practice new skills.
 
Once AAATC clients complete their PEARLS sessions, they enroll in PEARLS Connect, which includes a monthly newsletter; opportunities to connect on social media; community service opportunities; and information on a series of older adult–focused events including classes on technology, mindfulness and holiday-themed gatherings. As a result, older adults maintain improvements in their mental health.
 
Since PEARLS Connect launched in October 2018, 26 clients have enrolled and received 193 hours of service at events. The Patient Health Questionnaire-9 (PHQ-9), a depression screening tool, is administered at every PEARLS appointment and, as of October 2019, 83 percent of PEARLS Connect clients who attended two or more events maintained their improved PHQ-9 score three months after completing the PEARLS program.
 
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the PEARLS Connect program transitioned from being in-person to holding virtual events through Zoom. The agency made tablets available to everyone who wanted to participate in the program and provided user-friendly directions that outlined how to use the device.
 
To learn more about the PEARLS Connect program and how your agency can replicate this program in your community, contact Katrine White, Katrine.White@unitedwaytarrant.org.   

For more information about the 2020 winners, see the press release and read the book of winners! To read about past winners and find other best practices for your agency to consider, visit our Best Practices Clearinghouse page.

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