A Mobile App-Based Intervention Program for Nonprofessional Caregivers to Promote Positive Mental Health: Randomized Controlled Trial

JMIR Mhealth Uhealth. 2021 Jan 22;9(1):e21708. doi: 10.2196/21708.


Background: While nonprofessional caregivers often experience a sense of fulfillment when they provide care, there is also a significant risk of emotional and physical burnout. Consequently, this can negatively affect both the caregiver and the person being cared for. Intervention programs can help empower nonprofessional caregivers of people with chronic diseases and develop solutions to decrease the physical and psychological consequences resulting from caregiving. However, most clinically tested intervention programs for nonprofessional caregivers require face-to-face training, and many caregivers encounter obstacles that hinder their participation in such programs. Consequently, it is necessary to design internet-based intervention programs for nonprofessional caregivers that address their needs and test the efficacy of the programs.

Objective: The aim of this study was to evaluate the effectiveness of a smartphone app-based intervention program to increase positive mental health for nonprofessional caregivers.

Methods: This study was a randomized controlled trial of 3 months' duration. A total of 152 caregivers over 18 years of age with a minimum of 4 months' experience as nonprofessional caregivers were recruited from primary health care institutions. Nonprofessional caregivers were randomized into two groups. In the intervention group, each caregiver installed a smartphone app and used it for 28 days. This app offered them daily activities that were based on 10 recommendations to promote positive mental health. The level of positive mental health, measured using the Positive Mental Health Questionnaire (PMHQ), and caregiver burden, measured using the 7-item short-form version of the Zarit Caregiver Burden Interview (ZBI-7), were the primary outcomes. Users' satisfaction was also measured.

Results: In all, 113 caregivers completed the study. After the first month of the intervention, only one factor of the PMHQ, F1-Personal satisfaction, showed a significant difference between the groups, but it was not clinically relevant (0.96; P=.03). However, the intervention group obtained a higher mean change for the overall PMHQ score (mean change between groups: 1.40; P=.24). The results after the third month of the intervention showed an increment of PMHQ scores. The mean difference of change in the PMHQ score showed a significant difference between the groups (11.43; P<.001; d=0.82). Significant changes were reported in 5 of the 6 factors, especially F5-Problem solving and self-actualization (5.69; P<.001; d=0.71), F2-Prosocial attitude (2.47; P<.001; d=1.18), and F3-Self-control (0.76; P=.03; d=0.50). The results of the ZBI-7 showed a decrease in caregiver burden in the intervention group, although the results were inconclusive. Approximately 93.9% (46/49) of the app users indicated that they would recommend the app to other caregivers and 56.3% (27/49) agreed that an extension of the program's duration would be beneficial.

Conclusions: The app-based intervention program analyzed in this study was effective in promoting positive mental health and decreasing the burden of caregivers and achieved a high range of user satisfaction. This study provides evidence that mobile phone app-based intervention programs may be useful tools for increasing nonprofessional caregivers' well-being. The assessment of the effectiveness of intervention programs through clinical trials should be a focus to promote internet-based programs in health policies.

Trial registration: ISRCTN Registry ISRCTN14818443; http://www.isrctn.com/ISRCTN14818443.

International registered report identifier (irrid): RR2-10.1186/s12889-019-7264-5.

Keywords: caregiver; caregiving; clinical trial; health promotion; intervention program; mobile health; mobile phone app; nursing; positive mental health; randomized controlled trial; technology.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Caregivers / education*
  • Caregivers / psychology*
  • Female
  • Health Promotion / methods*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Male
  • Mental Health / statistics & numerical data*
  • Middle Aged
  • Mobile Applications*
  • Motivation*
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Program Evaluation
  • Quality of Life
  • Smartphone*
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult

Associated data

  • ISRCTN/ISRCTN14818443