Reaching More People with Technology


by Avi Zadaka, Lead Counselor, Project Coordinator

JFS has offered the grant-funded PEARLS (Program to Encourage Active and Rewarding Lives) program for three years to older adults facing low mood and/or depression. PEARLS was researched and developed at the University of Washington in Seattle. This research indicates that increasing pleasurable activities may be as effective as cognitive behavioral therapy in treating depression. As people become depressed, they tend to engage in increasing avoidance and isolation, which maintains or worsens their symptoms. The goal of PEARLS treatment is to gradually decrease depression, avoidance and isolation and increase engagement in activities.

PEARLS counselors meet with people in their homes to provide eight one-on-one support sessions over the course of five months. The skills and tools offered help participants address life’s problems and make ongoing plans to engage in a variety of pleasurable, meaningful activities.

Recently, a new component was added to PEARLS: tele-counseling. Utilizing video conferencing software on iPads, PEARLS counselors can deliver HIPPA-compliant counseling to clients and/or their caregivers outside of the Twin Cities, in the Twin Cities, and those who prefer this delivery method. The iPad, loaded with the software and built in 3G internet service, is provided free.

JFS Aging & Disability Services Director Chris Rosenthal heard about this delivery method being used last year in Texas. Chris was surprised to learn that seniors were embracing the technology and were excited to tell their children and grandchildren that they were using a computer. “If they can do it in Texas,” said Chris, “we can do it in Minnesota!”

Although there was apprehension around using new technology, Chris was right! We have been utilizing tele-counseling with both urban and rural populations, including older adults as well as caregivers. We set up and deliver the iPad along with an easy-to-use manual and start the sessions. After one initial session with a tele-counseling client in Stacey, Minnesota, the client couldn’t wait for the counselor to call her, so she called the counselor with the iPad. “I used the iPad manual you gave me,” she explained. “It was easy to follow and seamless.”

Another client said, “I am so grateful for tele-counseling. I live in rural Minnesota and I don’t have many people in my home. I feel safer having this ability to access help without having to go too far out of my comfort zone. Thank you thank you!”

This program is supported, in part, by a Live Well at Home grant from the Minnesota Department of Human Services and partially funded under contract with Metropolitan Area Agency on Aging as part of the Older Americans Act Program.