We believe there is a place in seniors’ homes for technology.
Technology innovations can also help family caregivers take better care of their senior loved one.
In many ways, family caregivers are still unsure where technology could help them.
Would installing smart home features be the best use of their money or paying for medical devices? Would a personal emergency response system be important for their senior’s safety at home?
Technology often will be purchased and maintained by caregivers, so they are the drivers of obtaining technology innovations.
The reality is that each caregiving situation is different, each senior loved one unique and how the family adopts technology is diverse.
What will work for one aging in place situation won’t necessarily work in another one. In fact, what works for one parent may not work for the other living in the same house.
Caregiving Technology Platforms
What technologies will family caregivers use?
Which innovations will solve their daily challenges to give them back some time and lift some of their burdens?
A recent study from Project Catalyst (of which AARP is a member) tried to help determine what works for caregivers of seniors and what doesn’t so that future innovations can help instead of hinder.
This report, Designing Technology for Caregivers: Understanding What Works and What Doesn’t, includes insights from the results of three recent pilot tests of how technologies can help caregivers overcome three specific challenges: care coordination, emergency alerting and selecting and hiring in-home aides.
Caregiver Technology Study Results
In this study, caregivers were given one of three platforms to evaluate.
Many family caregivers have some type of system that they use to keep track of a variety of different bits of data. Some use computer programs to manage medication lists, contact information, important documents, insurance information and doctor’s appointments. These computer programs were not designed for caregiving, just data processing. Other caregivers use the old-fashioned way – paper and notebooks (well, not really old fashioned!).
In this study, caregivers were given a smartphone platform designed specifically to manage aspects of caregiving.
For those of us who have tried these types of platforms, the results were not surprising. Caregivers didn’t like the functionality or effectiveness of the platform they tested and went back to their prior organization method. They reported that the platform didn’t meet their caregiving needs.
Personal Emergency Response Systems (PERS)
Family caregivers worry about the safety of their senior loved ones. 75% of family caregivers say they would like to have technology that allows them to check on the safety of their seniors remotely. However, in this survey group, none of them has used a PERS type system before.
Concerns of cost, awareness of the benefits, and stigma of this type of product reportedly kept them from using it. After using the PERS for 6 weeks, 85% felt that their peace of mind improved as a result of using the PERS and 90% of care recipients felt more independent in terms of their safety and well-being.
In-home care is an option many family caregivers use or strongly consider using. How to safely hire in-home care can be an obstacle for many caregivers. Would hiring a home aide online make this process easier for caregivers and give them a level of comfort knowing the workers would have background checks, proper vetting, and could be easily scheduled?
During the study, caregivers were given access to hiring in-home caregivers online. After using this platform, 82% found a suitable home aide and 100% of those caregivers were satisfied with the care they got online.
Future of Technology for Caregivers
Technology is without question going to benefit caregivers who will find ways to incorporate it into their daily routines. It has already become important to many caregivers in both big and small ways.
71% of caregivers express their desire to use technology while only 7% of caregivers are using any of the products currently on the market, according to Healthcare Innovation Technology Lab (HITLAB).
A serious concern is that the problems for which there are technology solutions aren’t necessarily the problems family caregivers say are their most pressing.
It will be important moving forward for caregivers to have input in technology solutions before they are produced or as testers before they go to market.
As we’ve seen in this study, 2 out of 3 solutions were viable but one fell flat. The problem when a product that is supposed to help caregivers is more trouble than it is worth is the potential for that caregiver to stop trusting technology. As a result, they will miss benefits of other useful solutions.
Time and Money Both Key for Caregivers
It isn’t just wasting time but money, too, that will keep caregivers from adopting beneficial technology for senior loved ones. Family caregivers are the ones buying the technology in hopes of getting peace of mind, safety and time.
Caregivers need affordable solutions that yield value. Cost is reported by a majority of caregivers as an obstacle to adopting technology.
Caregivers also don’t feel that they have the time to learn about what new technology is available, what they need, which product will help fill their gaps, how to get it and start using it and fear it won’t be any better than what they are doing now.
These are all barriers to them adopting the latest technology.
Tech Growing in Importance to Caregiving
Experts feel that as the average age of caregivers continues to lower, the use of technology will grow because this age group is already engaged with technology.
Interoperability remains a concern for caregivers, given . the variety of technology platforms and devices available now and in the future. One example given was a medication management system that tracked which medications were used but was unable to have them refilled, especially if not coming from a single provider. They may keep data in a calendar, but they want that calendar to communicate with all family caregivers and paid caregivers to keep everyone up to date.
Even more important is that these technology platforms will be able to change with needs as time goes on.
Everyone agrees that technology should relieve caregivers’ burdens, not add to them.
How exactly can technology achieve this more seamlessly? Most expect this will happen only when tech companies and caregivers communicate and then collaborate so solutions for these needs are actually created.