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Efficacy of a Smartphone App Intervention for Reducing Caregiver Stress: Randomized Controlled Trial

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Background
Caregivers play a pivotal role in maintaining an economically viable health care system, yet they are characterized by low levels of psychological well-being and consistently report unmet needs for psychological support. Mobile app–based (mobile health [mHealth]) interventions present a novel approach to both reducing stress and improving well-being.

Objective
This study aims to evaluate the effectiveness of a self-guided mobile app–based psychological intervention for people providing care to family or friends with a physical or mental disability.

Methods
In a randomized, single-blind, controlled trial, 183 caregivers recruited through the web were randomly allocated to either an intervention (n=73) or active control (n=110) condition. The intervention app contained treatment modules combining daily self-monitoring with third-wave (mindfulness-based) cognitive-behavioral therapies, whereas the active control app contained only self-monitoring features. Both programs were completed over a 5-week period. It was hypothesized that intervention app exposure would be associated with decreases in depression, anxiety, and stress, and increases in well-being, self-esteem, optimism, primary and secondary control, and social support. Outcomes were assessed at baseline, postintervention, and 3-4 months postintervention. App quality was also assessed.

Results
In total, 25% (18/73) of the intervention participants were lost to follow-up at 3 months, and 30.9% (34/110) of the participants from the wait-list control group dropped out before the postintervention survey. The intervention group experienced reductions in stress (b=−2.07; P=.04) and depressive symptoms (b=−1.36; P=.05) from baseline to postintervention. These changes were further enhanced from postintervention to follow-up, with the intervention group continuing to report lower levels of depression (b=−1.82; P=.03) and higher levels of emotional well-being (b=6.13; P<.001), optimism (b=0.78; P=.007), self-esteem (b=−0.84; P=.005), support from family (b=2.15; P=.001), support from significant others (b=2.66; P<.001), and subjective well-being (b=4.82; P<.001). On average, participants completed 2.5 (SD 1.05) out of 5 treatment modules. The overall quality of the app was also rated highly, with a mean score of 3.94 out of a maximum score of 5 (SD 0.58).

Conclusions
This study demonstrates that mHealth psychological interventions are an effective treatment option for caregivers experiencing high levels of stress. Recommendations for improving mHealth interventions for caregivers include offering flexibility and customization in the treatment design.

Trial Registration
Australian New Zealand Clinical Trial Registry ACTRN12616000996460; https://www.anzctr.org.au/Trial/Registration/TrialReview.aspx?id=371170

History

Journal

JMIR Mental Health

Volume

7

Issue

7

Article number

e17541

Pagination

1 - 18

Publisher

JMIR Publications

Location

Toronto, Ont.

ISSN

2368-7959

eISSN

2368-7959

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal