Study: Caregivers want tech support, but adoption rates low

About Liz Seegert

Liz Seegert (@lseegert), is AHCJ’s topic editor on aging. Her work has appeared in, Journal of Active Aging, Cancer Today, Kaiser Health News, the Connecticut Health I-Team and other outlets. She is a senior fellow at the Center for Health Policy and Media Engagement at George Washington University and co-produces the HealthCetera podcast.

Photo: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Photo: Michael Coghlan via Flickr

Family caregivers want and need technology that allows them to better support their loved ones, but only about seven percent of respondents in a recent national survey actually use available caregiving technology.

New research finds a huge gap between what caregivers say they want and actual adoption of apps, programs, or hardware. Lack of awareness, about appropriate options or the potential caregiving benefits, is one reason cited by a representative sample of family caregivers.

Conversely, feeling overwhelmed by too many choices, as well as being too pressed for time to conduct appropriate research, also prevent many caregivers from taking steps to enhance caregiving activities, according to Jeffrey Makowka, director of Market Innovation for AARP and co-director of the study.

“One of purposes of study was to find out where technology was being utilized and where it’s not being utilized – and where it’s not, to find out what the barriers are and determine what can we do to encourage better development of technologies to meet those needs,” he said in a phone interview.

Approximately 40 million Americans currently provide unpaid care to an adult. This population of caregivers is estimated to reach 45 million by 2020, caring for 117 million people, according to AARP. Technology is one way to help bridge the caregiving gap, but it has to be easy to use, reasonably priced and help deliver care more effectively and efficiently, without a huge learning curve, respondents said.

Technology that offers peace of mind – helping them check in on or monitor a loved one, is what caregivers want most. The top areas of interest as ranked by survey participants include:

  • Refilling and picking up prescriptions.
  • Making and supervising medical appointments.
  • Assessing health needs and conditions.
  • Ensuring home safety.
  • Monitoring Rx adherence.

Scheduling and organizing apps like online calendars and reminders – are also among the most often used technologies. Finding or procuring in-home assistance and watching motivational videos are among the least used technologies according to survey participants. Makowka said the tech industry – from smartphone app developers to manufacturers of remote care management systems, have much to do to let people know how they can use their tech tools more effectively to deliver better care for the people they love.

“Ultimately it’s a matter of engagement – most medication or digital health apps haven’t been able to crack the code…it doesn’t seem there’s a Candy Crush for medication adherence yet,” Makowka said.

Millenials use more tech

The also study found that younger caregivers (ages 18-49) are already using technology almost twice as much (8.5 percent vs. 4.6 percent) as their older counterparts (age 50+). Among those who currently aren’t using available technologies, younger caregivers more often say they are likely to use technology in giving care. Additionally, nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of caregivers ages 18-49 said they are likely to use available technologies, while only about half (56 percent) of caregivers ages 50-64 and only 38 percent of those ages 65 and up said the same.

Many caregivers struggle to find a balance between their own peace of mind and the dignity, privacy and independence of the person they are caring for. Remote monitoring is an option for some long-distance caregivers, but not every care recipient is comfortable having sensors or cameras in their home, Makowka said. He sees an increase in Uber-like apps that allow caregivers to schedule an aide to help their loved one, whether it’s all day or just a half hour to check in and make sure they have some conversation, as a less invasive option.

There’s plenty of room for tech companies to grow in this space, Makowka predicted, but they must align the desire of caregivers to know what is going on with the needs of the care recipient for dignity and privacy. Many caregivers are eagerly waiting for the right combination come to fruition.

Technology and caregiving resources:

  • Tech incubator Aging 2.0 support entrepreneurs who develop innovative tools and platforms to improve the lives of older adults and their caregivers.
  • Linkages, from the Druker Center for Health Systems Innovation, is a community based service exchange network that uses technology to match existing resources with need
  • The Family Caregiver Alliance’s Tech4Care page helps caregivers find the right high tech product or service for their loved ones’ needs

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