An Evaluation of a Low-Intensity Cognitive Behavioral Therapy mHealth-Supported Intervention to Reduce Loneliness in Older People

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2019 Apr 11;16(7):1305. doi: 10.3390/ijerph16071305.


There is a high prevalence of loneliness among older people, especially in residential care settings. Loneliness is often accompanied by maladaptive cognitions which can affect the maintenance and establishment of meaningful social connections. This study implemented and evaluated a low-intensity Cognitive Behavior Therapy (LI-CBT) mHealth-supported intervention which targeted maladaptive cognitions in older people (≥60 years) experiencing loneliness. The three-month intervention using WhatsApp was implemented with older people in four inner-city residential care facilities. The intervention included three components: technology acceptance, psycho-education, and individualized positively worded messages addressing maladaptive cognitions. The intervention was evaluated using a randomized control design. Key outcomes were measured pre-, post-, and one month after the intervention. There were significant changes in social cognition (YSQ-SF T₀-T₁-T₂, X² = 9.69, p = 0.008) and loneliness levels (total loneliness T₀-T₁-T₂, X² = 14.62, p = 0.001), and an increase in WhatsApp usage (T₀ = 26% vs. T₁ = 60%, X²=15.22, p = 0.019). At 1-month follow-up, even with a significant reduction in WhatsApp usage, a significant reduction in loneliness was maintained. LI-CBT delivered via instant messaging may be effective in reducing loneliness experienced by older people.

Keywords: WhatsApp; loneliness; low-intensity CBT; mHealth; older people; smartphone.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / methods*
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy / standards
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Loneliness / psychology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Residence Characteristics
  • Social Behavior
  • Social Environment
  • South Africa
  • Telemedicine*