How Phone Therapy Helps the Elderly in Rural Areas

Phone Therapy Helps the Elderly in Rural Areas

In an ideal world, everyone would have access to the medical and mental health services they need. Ye that is not the world we live in. Rural areas in particular are known for not having the best resources for medical health treatment, including mental health services. For elderly living in rural areas, an alternative solution is gaining notoriety and showing positive results in helping reduce depression and anxiety. Phone therapy has been gaining traction as an effective means to improve quality of life and to encourage aging in place longer by decreasing mental health symptoms.

What is Phone Therapy? 

Phone therapy is similar to a face to face therapy session. A similar type of conversation takes place, just over the phone. In a typical phone therapy session, a person would expect to receive the same classic cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) and general support therapy as one would by sitting across from a therapist. The same issues would be addressed: predominantly, generalized anxiety that is common in elderly.

The phone call would be led by a licensed professional competent to carry out the therapy and would include such remedial techniques as:

  • Relaxation tips
  • Recognition of anxiety signs
  • Problem solving strategies
  • Cognitive restructuring (seeing the glass half full)
  • Development of coping skills

Proven Success of Phone Therapy 

Studies have shown the effectiveness of phone therapy for the elderly living in rural areas who cannot easily drive to a counseling session. One such study, reported in the Journal of the American Medical Association Psychiatry was conducted from 2011 through 2013. Two groups of elderly people were studied. One group received phone-led cognitive behavioral therapy while the other group received phone sessions that allowed them to discuss their anxiety, but were offered no solutions to it.

What was astounding was that both groups reported a decrease in their anxiety symptoms; however, the group receiving cognitive behavioral therapy sessions via the phone saw a greater reduction in their anxiety. Even four months later during the follow-up sessions, those that had received CBT saw a decrease in both anxiety and depression symptoms.

Current Hindrances to Phone Therapy 

As it stands now, insurance companies do not offer phone therapy sessions from home as an approved service. If someone wants to receive such services, they must self-pay or drive to the nearest Medicare approved doctor and be connected there. Like most fairly new and trend-setting medical services, it may take a while to catch on.

The fact that there are studies being conducted with such positive results is a good sign that policymakers might be able to show insurance companies the far reaching benefits. The burgeoning aging population figures sharply point to growing healthcare costs; therefore, phone therapy for elderly people living in rural areas should become more of an appealing and highly valuable option as a means to reduce costs in mental health complications.

Why Should I Consider Phone Therapy for My Elderly Loved One? 

According to the Institute of Medicine, nearly 1 out of every 5 older Americans suffers from a mental health disorder. Mental illness will often accompany other health complications, which in turn does not help the mental health of a person getting older in the face of illness. Receiving treatment for the mental health disorder is just as important as seeking treatment for the physical ailment.

For over two decades, the Institute of Medicine has been studying effective treatments. The following factors improve mental health outcomes, giving elderly people the ability to remain independent for longer:

  • Systematic diagnosis and outreach
  • Education and support for patient and family
  • Accountability for treatment outcomes
  • Adequate follow-up and close monitoring

Phone therapy fits very nicely into this model of effective treatment. Untreated anxiety can lead to a variety of health complications, including an increased risk for falling and even substance abuse problems. The all-too-common practice of prescribing sedatives and benzodiazepines to deal with anxiety in patients can create unsafe impairments such as poor balance, coordination, and cognitive trouble, the ingredients of a downward spiral.

The elderly living in rural areas are too often an underserved population when it comes to treatment for mental illness. Phone therapy shows promise when it comes to improving overall health and quality of life.



Brenes, G.A., Danhauer, S. C., Lyles, M.F., Hogan, P.E., Miller, M. E. (2015). Telephone-Delivered Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Telephone-Delivered Nondirective Supportive Therapy for Rural Older Adults with Generalized Anxiety Disorder. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(10): 1012-1020. Available at Last Visited February 24, 2016.

Institute of Medicine. (July 2012). The Mental Health and Substance Abuse Workforce for Older Adults: In Whose Hands? Institute of Medicine of the National Academies. Available at Last Visited February 24, 2016.

Lenze, E. J. (2015). Solving the Geriatric Mental Health Crisis in the 21st Century. JAMA Psychiatry, 72(10): 967-968. Available at Last Visited February 24, 2016.