New User-Friendly Apps Can Help Older Adults Manage Mental Issues

In a new study, researchers showed that the use of a smartphone application can transform the delivery of geriatric psychiatry by integrating medical and psychiatric self-management intervention.

Experts explain that care of middle-aged and older patients with serious mental illness is complicated. Often these patients suffer from other medical conditions and are at increased risk of premature death. Typically, health care costs for people with mental illness are two to three times higher than individuals in the general population.

In an effort to help individual better cope with their illness, researchers from Dartmouth University developed a smartphone-based intervention with a user-friendly design. They found that even patients with limited technical abilities could use this app successfully.

The app and intervention protocol were developed using commercially available products from Wellframe.

“The use of mobile health interventions by adults with serious mental illness is a promising approach that has been shown to be highly feasible and acceptable,” said lead investigator Karen L. Fortuna, Ph.D., of the Dartmouth Centers for Health and Aging and the Geisel School of Medicine at Dartmouth.

“These technologies are associated with many advantages compared with traditional psychosocial interventions, including the potential for individually tailored, just-in-time delivery along with wide dissemination and high population impact.

“Nevertheless, the process of adapting an existing psychosocial intervention to a smartphone intervention requires adaptation for a high-risk group with limited health and technology literacy.”

Following multiple design iterations, investigators tested the app’s usability. Ten participants (mean age of 55.3 years) with serious mental illness and other chronic health conditions reported a high level of usability and satisfaction with the smartphone application.

The app takes patients through 10 sessions over a period of approximately three months, covering topics such as stress vulnerability and illness, medication adherence and strategies, and substance and medication abuse. Physicians can remotely monitor app use, and intervene when problems are detected, facilitating telemedicine for less accessible populations.

According to Fortuna, “Smartphone applications also potentially facilitate patient engagement in participatory, personalized, and preventative care. As the health care industry increasingly embraces prevention and illness self-management, it is important for physicians and patients to be actively involved in designing and developing new technologies supporting these approaches.”

This study is part of a special issue of the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry that captures an important moment in the evolving relationship between technology and the clinical care of older adults.

Source: Dartmouth University/EurekAlert