JMIR Ment Health. 2022 Sep 23;9(9):e38067. doi: 10.2196/38067.
BACKGROUND: While mental health applications are increasingly becoming available for large populations of users, there is a lack of controlled trials on the impacts of such applications. Artificial intelligence (AI)-empowered agents have been evaluated when assisting adults with cognitive impairments; however, few applications are available for aging adults who are still actively working. These adults often have high stress levels related to changes in their work places, and related symptoms eventually affect their quality of life.
OBJECTIVE: We aimed to evaluate the contribution of TEO (Therapy Empowerment Opportunity), a mobile personal health care agent with conversational AI. TEO promotes mental health and well-being by engaging patients in conversations to recollect the details of events that increased their anxiety and by providing therapeutic exercises and suggestions.
METHODS: The study was based on a protocolized intervention for stress and anxiety management. Participants with stress symptoms and mild-to-moderate anxiety received an 8-week cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) intervention delivered remotely. A group of participants also interacted with the agent TEO. The participants were active workers aged over 55 years. The experimental groups were as follows: group 1, traditional therapy; group 2, traditional therapy and mobile health (mHealth) agent; group 3, mHealth agent; and group 4, no treatment (assigned to a waiting list). Symptoms related to stress (anxiety, physical disease, and depression) were assessed prior to treatment (T1), at the end (T2), and 3 months after treatment (T3), using standardized psychological questionnaires. Moreover, the Patient Health Questionnaire-8 and General Anxiety Disorders-7 scales were administered before the intervention (T1), at mid-term (T2), at the end of the intervention (T3), and after 3 months (T4). At the end of the intervention, participants in groups 1, 2, and 3 filled in a satisfaction questionnaire.
RESULTS: Despite randomization, statistically significant differences between groups were present at T1. Group 4 showed lower levels of anxiety and depression compared with group 1, and lower levels of stress compared with group 2. Comparisons between groups at T2 and T3 did not show significant differences in outcomes. Analyses conducted within groups showed significant differences between times in group 2, with greater improvements in the levels of stress and scores related to overall well-being. A general worsening trend between T2 and T3 was detected in all groups, with a significant increase in stress levels in group 2. Group 2 reported higher levels of perceived usefulness and satisfaction.
CONCLUSIONS: No statistically significant differences could be observed between participants who used the mHealth app alone or within the traditional CBT setting. However, the results indicated significant differences within the groups that received treatment and a stable tendency toward improvement, which was limited to individual perceptions of stress-related symptoms.
TRIAL REGISTRATION: ClinicalTrials.gov NCT04809090; https://clinicaltrials.gov/ct2/show/NCT04809090.