Traditional face-to-face cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) has been successful at reducing fear of falling (FOF) in older people but can be labour-intensive and costly. Online CBT has been suggested as a cost-effective alternative but has not yet been tested in the context of FOF. This study evaluates the effectiveness of a readily available, self-guided and generalised online CBT program (myCompass) on reducing FOF in older people.
Fifty community-dwelling older people with FOF received a paper-based health education program, and half were randomly assigned to receive three selected modules from myCompass for 6 weeks. The primary outcome was feared consequences of falling at 6 weeks. Secondary outcomes were concern about falling, balance confidence, activity avoidance, physical activity, exercise self-efficacy, health literacy and mental health at 6/26/52 weeks and falls incidence at 12 months.
All intervention participants completed at least 2-out-of-3 myCompass modules. There was a significant main effect of time on feared consequences of falling (Cohen’s f = 0.55). The group by time interactions for concern about falling (f = 0.28), stress (f = 0.26) and social support for health (health literacy) (f = 0.26) was also significant, favouring the control group. The overall attrition rate at 12 months was 24% (n = 12).
The high program compliance and low attrition rate suggest that online CBT is feasible among older people. However, the myCompass program had no effect at reducing FOF in older people. A more targeted CBT program with a well-integrated psychoeducation module on FOF might be the solution to boost the therapeutic effects of a generalised CBT program at reducing FOF for older people.