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Open Access Research article

An evaluation of the effectiveness of a community mentoring service for socially isolated older people: a controlled trial

Andy P Dickens1*, Suzanne H Richards1, Annie Hawton2, Rod S Taylor12, Colin J Greaves1, Colin Green2, Rachel Edwards1 and John L Campbell1

Author Affiliations

1 Primary Care Research Group, Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Exeter, Smeall Building, St Luke's Campus, Magdalen Road, Exeter, EX1 2LU, United Kingdom

2 Institute of Health Service Research, Peninsula College of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Exeter, Veysey Building, Salmon Pool Lane, Exeter, EX2 4SG, United Kingdom

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:218  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-218

Published: 8 April 2011



Social isolation affects a significant proportion of older people and is associated with poor health outcomes. The current evidence base regarding the effectiveness of interventions targeting social isolation is poor, and the potential utility of mentoring for this purpose has not previously been rigorously evaluated. The purpose of this study was to examine the effectiveness of a community-based mentoring service for improving mental health, social engagement and physical health for socially isolated older people.


This prospective controlled trial compared a sample of mentoring service clients (intervention group) with a matched control group recruited through general practice. One hundred and ninety five participants from each group were matched on mental wellbeing and social activity scores. Assessments were conducted at baseline and at six month follow-up. The primary outcome was the Short Form Health Survey v2 (SF-12) mental health component score (MCS). Secondary outcomes included the SF-12 physical health component score (PCS), EuroQol EQ-5D, Geriatric Depression Score (GDS-10), social activity, social support and morbidities.


We found no evidence that mentoring was beneficial across a wide range of participant outcomes measuring health status, social activity and depression. No statistically significant between-group differences were observed at follow-up in the primary outcome (p = 0.48) and in most secondary outcomes. Identifying suitable matched pairs of intervention and control group participants proved challenging.


The results of this trial provide no substantial evidence supporting the use of community mentoring as an effective means of alleviating social isolation in older people. Further evidence is needed on the effectiveness of community-based interventions targeting social isolation. When using non-randomised designs, there are considerable challenges in the recruitment of suitable matches from a community sample.

Trial registration

SCIE Research Register for Social Care 105923

social isolation; complex intervention; controlled trial