Impact of Internet-Based Interventions on Caregiver Mental Health: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis
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BACKGROUND: The health of informal caregivers of adults with chronic conditions is increasingly vital since caregivers comprise a large proportion of supportive care to family members living in the community. Due to efficiency and reach, internet-based interventions for informal caregivers have the potential to mitigate the negative mental health outcomes associated with caregiving. OBJECTIVE: The objective of this systematic review and meta-analysis was to examine the impact of internet-based interventions on caregiver mental health outcomes and the impact of different types of internet-based intervention programs. METHODS: MEDLINE, EMBASE, CINAHL, PsycINFO, Cochrane, and AgeLine databases were searched for randomized controlled trials or controlled clinical trials published from January 1995 to April 2017 that compared internet-based intervention programs with no or minimal internet-based interventions for caregivers of adults with at least 1 chronic condition. The inclusion criteria were studies that included (1) adult informal caregivers (aged 18 years or older) of adults living in the community with a chronic condition; (2) an internet-based intervention program to deliver education, support, or monitoring to informal caregivers; and (3) outcomes of mental health. Title and abstract and full-text screening were completed in duplicate. Data were extracted by a single reviewer and verified by a second reviewer, and risk of bias assessments were completed accordingly. Where possible, data for mental health outcomes were meta-analyzed. RESULTS: The search yielded 7923 unique citations of which 290 studies were screened at full-text. Of those, 13 studies met the inclusion criteria; 11 were randomized controlled trials, 1 study was a controlled clinical trial, and 1 study comprised both study designs. Beneficial effects of any internet-based intervention program resulted in a mean decrease of 0.48 points (95% CI -0.75 to -0.22) for stress and distress and a mean decrease of 0.40 points (95% CI -0.58 to -0.22) for anxiety among caregivers. For studies that examined internet-based information and education plus professional psychosocial support, the meta-analysis results showed small to medium beneficial effect sizes of the intervention for the mental health outcomes of depression (-0.34; 95% CI -0.63 to -0.05) and anxiety (-0.36; 95% CI -0.66 to -0.07). Some suggestion of a beneficial effect on overall health for the use of information and education plus combined peer and professional support was also shown (1.25; 95% CI 0.24 to 2.25). Overall, many studies were of poor quality and were rated at high risk of bias. CONCLUSIONS: The review found evidence for the benefit of internet-based intervention programs on mental health for caregivers of adults living with a chronic condition, particularly for the outcomes of caregiver depression, stress and distress, and anxiety. The types of interventions that predominated as efficacious included information and education with or without professional psychological support, and, to a lesser extent, with combined peer and psychological support. Further high-quality research is needed to inform the effectiveness of interactive, dynamic, and multicomponent internet-based interventions. TRIAL REGISTRATION: PROSPERO CRD42017075436; https://www.crd.york.ac.uk/prospero/display_record.php?RecordID=75436 (Archived by WebCite at http://www.webcitation.org/709M3tDvn).
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