Telehealth – One Way (of Many) Senior Loved Ones’ Health Can Benefit from Technology

Family caregivers are quickly learning how valuable technology can be in their everyday lives as they are caring for their senior loved ones and their own families.

They are asking Alexa or Google Assistant to lend them a hand by turning on soothing music, switching on the lights in a dark room, or even ordering dinner when they just don’t have time to cook.

But there are other ways that using technology can help family caregivers provide optimal care for seniors especially with regard to their health and well-being.

Enter telehealth – –  but what is it?

Principles of Telehealth

Telehealth is a fast-growing way in which medical professionals of all specialties are using a broad variety of technologies and tactics to deliver virtual medical, health, and education services.

In fact, the 2017 Telemedicine and Digital Health Survey found that 53% of providers planned to offer telehealth medical services in the coming year which is up from three years ago when 87% of healthcare providers did not think patients would begin using this technology.

Virtual health care can help family caregivers get the prompt medical attention their seniors need without the struggle of appointments, transportation, waiting time, or other hassles that make visiting the medical team impossible for many at times.

Seniors and Doctors

Unfortunately, as many family caregivers are acutely aware, seniors often are scheduled to visit a variety of medical professionals regularly.

Regular checkups, prescription refills, follow-up appointments, blood work, medical procedures, imaging studies, and other preventive care appointments keep seniors (and, in many cases, their family caregivers) forever sitting in waiting rooms. Let’s not forget, routine visits to the pharmacy to fill prescriptions or to refill their over the counter health remedy choices.

There are medical doctors, nurse practitioners, podiatrists, cardiologists, renal doctors, dentists, eye doctors, gerontologists, endocrinologists, dietitians, care coordinators and many other medical professionals that our seniors need to see on a regular basis to manage a multitude of chronic diseases.

There are many trips back and forth and time spent waiting to stay healthy. The more appointments there are, the less patience we all have when dealing with getting there, waiting, and finally returning home. It is burdensome for both seniors and their caregivers.

Is there a better way? Telehealth for seniors may be an answer to the prayers of family caregivers.

Telehealth – Digital Health

Using telehealth can reduce the amount of time spent waiting and will definitely reduce the wear and tear of transportation on seniors and family caregivers, not to mention the family car!

When technology can be engaged to monitor vital signs such as blood pressure, weight changes, blood sugar, pulse, oxygenation status, and heart rate, doctors require fewer visits and hopefully the number of health crises requiring a hospital visit will decline.

How desirous is a regular health exam from the comfort of your senior’s home?

Improvements in telehealth mean that medical professionals can do even more than checking blood sugar. With telehealth, they can monitor cardiac status with home EKG, adjust medications or dosages to prevent health crisis, monitor adherence to diabetic therapy, monitor sleep patterns, provide rehab services post stroke, and administer life-saving treatments, and give mental health counseling all virtually.

Real Time, Any Place Care

The beauty of telemedicine is that it is connecting seniors and healthcare professionals in real time!

Would your senior like to wear a t-shirt that measures their cardiac function and can detect altered heart rate, atrial fibrillation, and stroke? It’s coming!

In addition to providing routine medical care via virtual consults in rural areas where there are often few medical professionals, doctors will be able to perform surgery virtually when there may not be trained professionals in the right location to meet the needs of seniors.

In emergencies, EMTs and paramedics can use telehealth via apps to help diagnose and treat seniors in the field. This type of new app can allow hands free care by emergency personnel as they use voice control to get treatment plans from the app tailored to the specific needs of the emergent situation.

Virtual reality technology will add to the abilities of healthcare professionals to provide care and treatment out of the office and in the home.

Changes to Reimbursement Opens the Door

“Who will pay for telehealth?” has been a major obstacle for health professionals providing digital health and remains an obstacle for many practitioners.

Health professionals are licensed in the state where they reside or their office is located, so providing virtual care across state lines has been a major stumbling block for who wish to offer this care. Many health professionals are asking for national instead of state licensure to solve this issue.

State laws covering informed consent are also obstacles for the use of telehealth. Some states have dropped the requirement for informed consent of telehealth care.

Insurance providers, including the government who reimburses a majority of seniors through Medicare and Medicaid, historically will only pay the bill when the care was delivered from a clinic setting to another clinic setting, which means home visits weren’t covered.

Family caregivers need these rules and regulations to change and have reimbursement policies up to date with current technology for the benefit of seniors.

Doctors and other health professionals have been reluctant to engage with digital health solutions because they haven’t been paid to read the streams of data digital health devices and apps are generating each day. Given all the demands on the professionals’ time, it isn’t feasible for them to read emails, texts and vital sign data when they don’t get paid for it.

Reimbursement changed as of January 1, 2018. Medicare and Medicaid will begin reimbursing physicians. “Clinicians should use digital tools in such a way that allows them to provide ongoing guidance and assessments for patients outside of the in-office visit. This includes the collection and use of patient generated health data.” This will inevitably lead to more physicians encouraging seniors to begin making use of digital health.

Even the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is being pushed to approve medical devices and telehealth service platforms to help move this tech innovation into more accessible reality.

Seniors Benefit from Telehealth

Who wouldn’t want medical care and treatment available to seniors on a 24/7 basis not just during office hours.

Preventing hospital stays, reducing ER visits, avoiding doctor office waiting and transportation logistics is worth the learning curve that using technology for health may have for some seniors and caregivers.

Seniors can get checkups via telehealth so they don’t have to sit in the waiting room for what feels like hours. Face to face visits can be done virtually using technology.

Emergency first aid with a trained health professional will mean we can keep fragile seniors out of the emergency room as much as possible.

Using digital health tools such as mobile health applications, remote patient monitoring and personal health records will improve access and ultimately the health of our senior loved ones.

Getting them connected should be on family caregivers To Do list this year!


7 Great CES 2018 Themes for Family Caregivers of Seniors

CES 2018 — the big innovation showcase — is history, the sore feet are rested, and we’ve had a chance to ponder the implications of everything we encountered.

It is still exhausting to think of it all!

We found a lot to like for family caregivers of senior adults, some of it here now, much more to be available in the months and years to come. There were also a number of things about which we want to learn more (and will) so we can provide you deeper insights.

Rather than discuss individual products or ideas now, we want to highlight 7 theme areas we found that reflect positive developments for family caregivers.

  1. Recognition of the roles and importance of family caregivers
  2. Seniors’ needs on the mind of autonomous vehicle developers
  3. Voice control of connected devices in the home
  4. Innovations in fall prevention
  5. Insights into a new model for family caregiving
  6. Robot support for caregivers getting closer
  7. Medicare playing role in care innovation

Some of those areas were anticipated by us, but others were pleasant surprises, but that is the nature of CES.

Our Week at CES 2018

CES 2018 started for us before the official start, with the media activities. It would be easy to brush aside the Media Day activities as commercials for the big CES exhibitors — and much of it is — but they also provide insight into some of their offerings that we don’t get on the crowded (truly an understatement) exhibit floors.

CES conference sessions were once high on our agenda and some started out that way this year. What we found, unfortunately, is that too many conference sessions have effectively become advertising opportunities for the sponsors and clients of the companies putting on the sessions. Even where there is information of real value, many sessions seemed an effort to put as many speakers as possible on stage, leaving little opportunity for more than soundbites.

The real benefit of CES is the ability to interact with exhibitors and their technology one-on-one on the exhibit floor. While that has become more of a challenge as the crowd has grown, we enjoy learning not just about the technology but the story behind it and plans for the future.

We also like to look for what innovations might be getting headlines in the future or highlights at CES in future years — and which things might never be seen again. There were a number of items we chalked up as solutions in search of a problem to solve, but you never know when a light bulb might go off for one of those innovators, who could transform their tech into the next big thing.

Recognition of the Roles & Importance of Family Caregivers

One theme we’ve found to be growing in recent years at CES is recognition by technology companies of not just the needs of seniors but the roles and importance of their family caregivers.

All through CES — in media events, conference sessions, and when we talked with exhibitors in their booths — there was talk about family caregivers. The word is out about the numbers of family caregivers and how their roles will continue to grow in importance as populations continue to get older.

One thing especially gratifying for us is the number of tech companies that reached out to Senior Care Corner® to get OUR attention for their products and ideas. We plan to stay in contact with them to keep you updated on tech developments.

Autonomous Vehicles & the Needs of Seniors

We have discussed a number of times how autonomous vehicles, including self-driving cars, will help seniors maintain their independence. Recognition of that is only growing among developers, but there is more.

At CES we heard a great deal about autonomous transit options, often in the context of smart cities, and how they can accommodate seniors and their schedules.

Probably the most prominent autonomous option was Accessible Olli. A partnership between IBM, Local Motors, and the CTA Foundation are striving to make Olli the most accessible self-driving vehicle, in part with seniors’ needs in mind.

Voice Control in the Connected Home

Voice control was one of the overwhelming themes of CES for seemingly everyone with whom we spoke.

What does that mean? It refers to the ability to control everything from lights to door locks to, well, seemingly everything in the home by using your voice, via one of the “personal assistants.”

You might be surprised at the number and types of devices you will be able to control without even lifting a finger.

At CES 2018, Google took the battle for voice supremacy to Amazon’s Alexa, and no wonder. We have encountered numerous home controls over the last year touting their ability to interface with users via Alexa – – and Google wants in with its Google Assistant.

Interestingly, most connected products tout their compatibility with both assistants and are striving to be open systems usable by all manufacturers.

We have been looking closely at Alexa for a while and realize we will have to see how it stacks up against the Google offering and report our findings to you. No, we haven’t forgotten about Siri (she is on our mobile devices) but we didn’t hear too much about her from CES exhibitors.

Innovations in Fall Prevention

For years we have heard much about technology that helps seniors who have fallen, primarily with notification of family members or first responders as well as sensing devices and wondered when there would be technology to help prevent senior falls.

The first fall for many seniors is often a life-changer (not in a good way) so preventing falls is high on our list of tech priorities for seniors and family caregivers.

At CES 2018, we talked with a number of people working to bring to market technology intended do just that. There will be shoes and other wearables that will signal when there is a change with potential to lead to a fall, such as a variation in how a senior is walking, and provide notification before the fall occurs. Monitoring devices that pattern activity is also intended to be more proactive with home safety.

In the meantime, we found a very interesting a product developed by Helite. It is a belt warn by seniors containing air bags that inflate when a fall is detected to cushion the landing and protect fragile hips (and provides notification to caregivers of the fall). The belt is worn as you see in the photo on the left and C02 tanks deploy during a fall to open hip protectors.

Insights Into a New Family Caregiving Model

Family caregivers often feel like we’re struggling on our own, a situation that has to change as our population continues to age. At CES we learned of a new model of caregiving that could greatly improve things for both seniors and family caregivers.

We had a chance to talk with Tom Riley, President and CEO of Seniorlink, about a collaborative model they have developed, which combines the human touch with technology. He talked about a caregiving team, with the family caregiver as the team leader, something we found very appealing.

There is a lot more to tell about Seniorlink and what it could mean for family caregiving, so we plan to explore it in-depth in a future article.

Robot Support for Family Caregivers

We saw literally hundreds of robot across CES 2018, many of them cute toys or companions (which, to be fair, is a caregiving role), but none that seemed near ready to provide a true supporting role for seniors or family caregivers.

Nothing we saw at CES seemed to approach the capability of the CareBot™, the robotic caregiver from Martin Spencer and Gecko Systems, which has been tested in a home care environment.

We were still encouraged by the intentions and approach of some developers and particularly impressed by AvatarMind. They have a robot, iPal, that seems to have real potential. They told us they realize it is not yet a “caregiver” but are taking steps in that direction, introducing it into senior care settings and learning the capabilities that would provide real value.

iPal is one robot we are going to be following closely and even considering for a trial of our own, while we continue to watch the entire field for developments.

Medicare Playing a Role in Care Innovation

For several years we have noted the innovations in home health devices and other technology coming from France, often wishing their devices were available in the US.

From our conversations with French firms, we have learned one of the drivers of their innovation abundance is the role played by their government, which is the result of its role in the nation’s healthcare system.

Yes, we realize the role of government with healthcare is an issue that divides the US, but that doesn’t mean it can’t provide a role in care innovation.

We heard from several at CES 2018 their innovation has benefited from investment (in one form or another) by Medicare. Yes, that Medicare. It makes sense if you think about it, as healthcare innovation means better care for our seniors and lower cost for Medicare, a wonderful win-win.

This is another area into which we are going to delve more deeply and report more in the future.

Another way Medicare is working to improve care through technology innovation is by reimbursing healthcare providers for reading the data obtained from seniors’ digital health devices.

Technology Future Bright for Family Caregivers

All of this means the hope we carried into CES 2018 was very much justified, with a lot of reasons for family caregivers to be confident technology will aid them in caring for senior loved ones.

Clearly we were able only to scratch the surface in discussing much of what we found and what it can mean.

We are excited about what is ahead of us in learning more to keep you on top of the innovation and are already planning the work ahead of us in the coming weeks and months.

Stay tuned!

 




Healthy Aging Action Plan in the New Year for Seniors and Their Family Caregivers

No matter our age, we want to be healthy now and stay healthy in the future.

As family caregivers of aging parents, grandparents, and other family members, we can help facilitate a healthy lifestyle to improve our senior loved ones’ health, especially when they are faced with chronic diseases.

When they are present, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and other chronic diseases have no cure, only treatment to manage them.

Preventing them from occurring is a good goal to have.

We can start the year off with a bang by creating a lifestyle with healthy choices and habits for the ones for whom we care as well as ourselves so we can be better caregivers.

There are many risk factors for developing chronic diseases. We have the power to reduce the risks associated with chronic diseases by making lifestyle changes.

Uncontrollable Risk Factors

Risk factors that can’t be controlled or modified by you are known as unmodifiable risk factors.

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Family History

Even though you can’t change these risks, it is important to be aware of how they may affect your senior loved one’s health, as well as your own.

Controllable Risk Factors

Things that you can change to improve your health and your senior loved one’s health are in your control or modifiable risk factors such as these.

  • Nutrition
  • Smoking
  • Physical Activity
  • Weight
  • Cholesterol
  • Stress
  • Blood Pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Sleep

It isn’t as easy as swallowing a magic pill that will make you and your senior ‘all better’ but a commitment to realizing what isn’t working and trying to change that to benefit your health.

Resolving to Strive for Better Health

Taking charge of your health and helping your senior see that it is never too late to make positive health changes will start your New Year off on the right footing!

Change is not easy!

Decide what risk factors you and your senior can change to make a real difference in your health and then come up with a plan to lower those risks.

Here are some things you can do together to ensure that you both will have health in the New Year!

  1. Talk to your doctor about preventing and controlling chronic diseases. Do you know your numbers? Do you know which chronic disease you are at highest risk to develop such as heart attack, hypertension, diabetes, or stroke? Determine where your focus should be after discussing test results with your doctor to develop a plan of treatment.
  2. Eat right. Eat a variety of fresh foods, limit fried foods, include whole grains and foods with fiber, substitute unsaturated fats for saturated fats, include fruits and vegetables each meal, drink plenty of water, and limit salt in your meals.
  3. Stop smoking! There are many diseases directly related to smoking. There are also many smoking cessation programs that can be done with the help of your doctor or a support system such as via a smartphone app.
  4. Get moving! Participate in some physical activity every day! It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money, take a long time, or be boring. Do what you love everyday, whether it is walking, dancing, working in the garden, golfing, or playing exergames on the gaming system. Get up and get moving. If they are more to your liking, try yoga, tai chi, or square dancing!
  5. Lose weight and keep it off! No one wants to think they are overweight, but being heavier than we should carries with it numerous health risks. Even losing 5-10 pounds will benefit your health. You don’t have to stop eating what you love, just reduce portion sizes and snacking, limit sweetened beverages, and get active to manage your weight.
  6. Check your cholesterol and do what is needed to get in under 200. Discuss cholesterol lowering strategies with your doctor and dietitian.
  7. Cope with what’s bothering you and reduce your stress. Turn that frown upside down and smile! Find ways to reduce your stress or cope with the stress you know you have! Reach out if stress becomes overwhelming and turns into depression.
  8. Keep track of blood pressure and keep it in range. If you or your senior has hypertension, be sure to monitor your blood pressure and follow your specific treatment plan with medications, diet, or activity changes.
  9. Get your blood sugar tested and follow a treatment plan to keep your numbers in control. If you have prediabetes, make diet and health changes to avoid being diagnosed with diabetes. Keeping your blood sugar in range will pay off in health benefits by reducing the likelihood of vascular complications.
  10. Get a restful night’s sleep. Practice good sleep hygiene by darkening the room, removing the distractions, getting a comfortable bed, controlling the temperature and air movement, and avoiding taking sleep aides.

We wish you and your senior loved ones a happy and HEALTHY New Year!

Stay on track with your lifestyle changes to be the best you both can be as you age!

We welcome your stories of success so we can share your good news with others and help them along their path!

 




Home Robots Everywhere at #CES2018 in All Shapes, Sizes, and Functions (Almost)

Robots have gone from the pages of science fiction into every room of the home (yes, even the bathroom).

At CES 2018 we encountered hundreds of robots in all sorts of shapes, from simple little boxes to cute human-like forms.

Robots intended for home use can be small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, nearly adult-sized, and pretty much any size in between.

Some are inactive, while others can dance, with robots having all sorts of ranges of motion. We even watched one climb up a set of stairs, putting one foot in front of the other.

All of those things are nice, but our interest in robots is focused on what they can — or can’t — do for seniors and their family caregivers.

What Home Robots Can Do

There are many functions we’ve seen home robots perform at CES 2018.

  • Reading books to children
  • Answer questions based on answers from the web
  • Turn lights on and off based on voice commands
  • Provide reminders to take medication
  • Sing a song along with a video on their screen
  • Send notifications to specified contacts if it saw a person in the home fall
  • Record video of persons in a home that was supposed to be vacant
  • Play a board game
  • Conduct a video call

. . . and so much more!

There is really too much to list, even though we are still just scratching the surface of what robots are capable of doing for us.

What Home Robots Can’t Do — Yet

What we didn’t see at CES — and was not claimed by anyone with whom we spoke — is one of the things that brings us to CES each year.

We didn’t see a robot that could function as a caregiver to an independent-living senior.

There are robots that can keep our senior loved ones entertained, be great companions, remind them to take their medication, reach out to family members, and do other things we seek in a robotic caregiver.

None, though, perform all of the functions.

That doesn’t mean they aren’t close. In one of our CES wrap-up articles we will discuss one or two that really impressed us and whose developers are taking the steps needed to function as caregivers.

In the meantime, there is a lot about which to be excited!

We want to share this montage of robots, just a few of the many pictures we’ve taken so far — with another day of CES 2018 ahead.

6 WHOAs from #CES2018 – Before It Officially Starts

It hasn’t even started yet, but CES 2018 has already fulfilled its promise of WHOA, several times over!

We’ve come to expect a lot of innovation and excitement from our visits to CES, but we don’t recall seeing so much before the show even officially opens.

How’s that? There are a day and a half of media-only events, CES Unveiled (a sneak peak and chance for one-on-one discussions with a number of exhibitors), and a handful of pre-show conference sessions.

It has been enough to give us several “whoa” moments already, not to mention running us ragged with the whole show still ahead of us.

CES Pre-Show WHOAs

Six things already have us saying WHOA! from this year’s CES experience.

  1. Google Assistant vs. Amazon Alexa
  2. Smart speakers and voice control throughout the home
  3. 5G
  4. Vive la France
  5. Personalization
  6. Lines

Let’s look briefly at each of those.

Google Assistant vs. Amazon Alexa

Before you even get to a CES event you see Google firing the first shots in what is clearly an all-out voice control battle with Alexa. Google was everywhere we turned, from digital billboards outside the casinos to signs plastered on every form of transportation.

More than the visible signs, everyone is talking about Google going after Alexa, not just for smart speaker dominance but voice control in devices throughout the home.

Smart Speakers & Voice Control

The Google Assistant vs. Alexa battle is even bigger because voice control is everywhere, both in media presentations and in the home. With a role for smart speakers in every room and voice control built into seemingly everything, the stakes are high for the competing voice technologies.

This is something we see as big for aging in place seniors, as it will give them the ability to control the tech devices in their homes without having to be tech experts.

5G

We have been hearing for some time about the next generation of wireless, 5G, and now it is just about ready for release.

That’s not the “whoa,” though — it’s the speed. One speaker described it as fiber speed through wireless communications, but that still doesn’t do it justice.

There are a number of cities and broadband providers touting “gig” speeds for their fiber, but 5G promises wireless speeds ten times that. Think about being able to download a two hour movie in the amount of time it takes to say it’s title. That’s WHOA fast!

Vive la France

For years we have marveled at the innovation we have seen from French tech companies and lamented that more of it is not available in the US, especially connected health devices.

This year the French are back in bigger numbers than before – – with several devices we can’t wait to report are available to seniors and family caregivers in the US.

Personalization

Technology has been offering great experiences to users for years, with that experience based on what each user made of the tech. That is changing.

This year everyone has been talking about technology personalizing the experience for each user. We’ve heard a lot about artificial intelligence, AI, and machine learning without really understanding what they will mean to us. They will enable our devices to learn about us and tailor what they do for and with us based on that knowledge.

LG, in its press session, referred to it as “I learn to know you.”

Lines

There are always lines at CES, but already this year there are LINES! Everywhere we turn, from press conferences to conference sessions, excitement about the innovation is drawing crowds and lines so long there isn’t even enough standing room for everyone who is waiting to learn more.

 

All this and the sight of BMWs drifting in the parking lot . . . and CES 2018 doesn’t officially start until tomorrow.

We can’t wait to see it and bring it to you!

 




CTA Researches Impacts of Technology on Family Caregivers

Family caregivers have long played a crucial role in enabling older adults to realize their wish to live independently in the home of their choice.

That role is gaining in importance with the explosive growth of the senior population, which means there are more older adults than ever before, living longer than ever before – with both trends showing no sign of letting up.

Those trends mean the need for family caregivers will only skyrocket, especially with even more of those older adults living at home, whether by choice or necessity.

The reality is there will be more seniors for whom to care for longer periods, thus the efforts of more family caregivers will be needed for a greater time than ever before. This will put increasing strain on family caregivers, whose numbers simply won’t keep up with those of the loved ones who will need their care.

Seems like a prime opportunity for technology to lighten the load, doesn’t it?

We have thought so for a long time.

Family Caregivers Overlooked by Tech Firms

Family caregivers have been an overlooked market for technology innovators – an afterthought at best – as we have been saying based on covering CES® for several years.

Even when we found tech intended to meet the needs of seniors, marketers just didn’t seem to recognize the role of family caregivers, even though that role is often the key in identifying the need for, selecting, purchasing and implementing tech for their senior loved ones.

Technology support for family members providing care to loved ones has received even less attention.

After talking about it year after year in our reporting on CES and technology in general, we have started to see positive changes the last couple of years.

While preparing to cover CES 2018, we’ve wondered if we would see even more recognition of the needs and importance of family caregivers.

We were thrilled, then, when the Consumer Technology Association™ released a new market research report, “Family Caregiver Technology Usage & Perceptions,” during the lead up to CES.

Finally, family caregivers in the spotlight!

Research Focusing on Family Caregivers

The objective stated in the CTA research report says it all: “to understand the current and future consumer use and trends of family caregiver technology…” Understanding is an important step in meeting the needs of family caregivers.

Specifically, the study looked at the use of caregiver technology, technology purchase drivers, and the use of mobile apps and websites by caregivers.

Learning how caregivers, especially spouses who are themselves seniors, engage technology is important when you realize the number of those over 65 who use smartphones has doubled, with more than 2 of 5 seniors owning smartphones, and 2 out of 3 going online according to Pew Research.

The CTA study looked at those caring for children as well as family caregivers of adults, but our focus is on what they found from their study of those family members who care for senior loved ones.

Broad Range of Family Caregivers

One interesting finding from the CTA study was just who is providing care to seniors. It is often thought of as being the seniors’ children providing that care, but CTA found it was family members with other relationships providing care more often, at least for seniors under 80 years old.

We wonder if the study, by asking respondents if they provide “caregiving services,” missed out on many of those we consider to be family caregivers and for whom technology does or could provide a role.

As we have learned, many family members who care for and about senior loved ones don’t apply the “caregiver” label to themselves, though they may play an important role in the ability of the seniors to successfully age in place.

While the CTA data is not broken down, it may reflect a situation that is common. The primary caregiver of many seniors who have chronic health conditions or otherwise need assistance is their spouse. Often the couple’s children and other family members are providing necessary assistance that enables the seniors to live independently. We consider these to be family caregivers as well, caregivers who may be drivers of technology use in the seniors’ home.

This should be a reminder of two realities to keep in mind.

  1. Many of those who provide support and care to older adults, and thus should be considered caregivers, do not apply that label to themselves. Overlooking their roles misses a significant portion of the caregiving picture and the needs of those providing that care.
  2. Family caregivers can be any relationship to the senior, a sibling, grandchild, or anyone who cares enough to support a loved one. In addition, many same sex partners and others not covered under traditional terms truly may be family caregivers to a senior loved one.
  3. Many caregivers of seniors are their spouses/partners, who are often of similar age and who may increasingly need care themselves or may be already be receiving care from other family members. Just as many family caregivers do not realize they are in that role, seniors may not be applying that label to family members who are providing them care.

This is important for those developing and marketing technology to family caregivers, as it means there is not a single profile of a family caregiver to target, but a broad range of caregivers with varying needs and levels of experience with technology themselves.

Family Caregivers and Technology

We haven’t had an opportunity yet to seek permission from CTA to report specific results and statistics, but plan to do so and provide a more detailed report in the future. In the meantime, we’ll keep our discussion more general.

Not surprisingly, what CTA learned from family caregivers in its study is consistent with what we hear from family caregivers and have experienced ourselves.

Some of the greatest benefits tech provides to family caregivers come from basic technology capabilities.

  • Keeping track of hectic schedules, including appointments and medication timing
  • Staying connected with senior loved ones and the others in their lives
  • Monitoring chronic health conditions, such as diabetes and high blood pressure

It was reassuring to hear CTA researchers found technology provided many family caregivers just what they need in their lives, including peace of mind and time savings.

At the same time, it was not surprising they found a significant number of family caregivers didn’t expect to employ many of the technologies we believe will be important caregiving tools in the future, such as web-connected health devices, mobile healthcare apps, wearables, and sensor devices in seniors’ homes. After all, there is no reason to expect employment until the benefit of specific devices and technologies is demonstrated, an area in which other family caregivers may take a leading role.

Keys to Future Caregiving Technology

The CTA study also confirmed for us some of the issues we see as important determinants of technology success in meeting the needs of family caregivers.

Ease of use

Technology should make caregivers’ lives easier, not more complicated. That’s manifested in several ways.

  • The actual operation of tech devices should be straightforward
  • Technology should prompt caregivers when it needs to be used rather than caregivers needing to remember it
  • Information provided by the technology caregivers use should be easy to see, not spread over multiple apps or interfaces
  • Tech should be usable by caregivers’ senior loved ones in many cases, rather than adding to the tasks of family caregivers

An innovation could be capable of providing tremendous benefits but will provide none if family caregivers feel it is too complicated or time consuming to implement it.

Financial Practicality

The economics of technology are an important consideration in its adoption by caregivers, many of whom are challenged financially by their caregiving role already.

This includes not just the cost but also addressing who ultimately pays that cost. Many important technology benefits will escape caregivers who can’t afford to pay and whose senior loved ones’ insurance won’t cover the cost.

Security of Personal Information

Many family caregivers were cautious about the implications of bringing connected technologies into the homes of their senior loved ones even before news stories over the last couple of years gave many the impression NO technology is secure.

The caution is understandable. After all, who wants to see loved ones harmed because their health data was leaked or identity or money stolen because of tech the caregiver introduced into their seniors’ lives?

At some point, many family caregivers will consider proposing sensors, cameras, or other monitoring devices for their seniors’ homes to protect the safety and health of their loved ones. That will be an even steeper mountain for many to climb if assurances can’t be made the information collected by those devices will be used only as agreed by the senior.

Future of Caregiving Technology

As with many areas of technology, there are challenges in developing the future of caregiving technology. While innovators would like to know what family caregivers would find of value and use, the perception of many caregivers is bounded by technology as they know it today.

One thing we know because we follow technology closely is that we really don’t know what is possible for the future, as exponential technology growth means the capabilities will be greater even faster than we can imagine.

If smartphones and tablets were available to us 20 years ago, when we first cared for senior loved ones, our lives and the care we were able to provide would have been very different. We couldn’t have known what we were missing, though, as the mobile technologies of today were just ideas then.

Just as technology will be different in the years to come, so will family caregivers. The level of experience and comfort caregivers – and seniors — have with tech will grow as more of those growing up in our connected technology world become family caregivers and seniors themselves.

Thank You, CTA!

We appreciate the Consumer Technology Association for conducting research into family caregivers and technology and publishing their findings because they’re shining a bright light on a group that could truly benefit from technology but is underserved today.

We hope technology companies and other innovators will keep in mind there are a broad range of family caregivers whose needs and interest in technology may not have been fully captured by the study.

In addition, it’s important to consider that family caregivers will benefit from technology not generally thought of as related to caregiving, such as voice control of home technology, autonomous vehicles, and smart cities, that will meet needs of seniors often filled by family caregivers today. There is also the promise and great potential of home robotics, about which we are very excited.

Senior Care Corner® looks forward to helping make that light shone on family caregivers by CTA even brighter and are hopeful about what we will see and hear in the coming days at CES 2018 and in years beyond.