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.