Transform Family Caregivers’ Future – Caregiving Innovation Frontiers

It’s less a question of “if” than “when” most of us will become family caregivers to our senior loved ones.

For those who aren’t family caregivers already, that is.

And MANY are!

According to the latest survey by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, 40 million Americans are providing unpaid care, 25% of them millennials and 50% under the age of 50.

Finding ways to make the role of caregiver easier will be vital as we face a future with more people needing care than those available to provide it.

We need to look for solutions that will help family caregivers continue to work, care for their young families and also care for themselves if we hope for them to take on those duties.

A new report called Caregiving Innovation Frontiers, published January 2016, examines technology solutions and ways to help family caregivers moving forward.

Report Goals and Findings

Many caregivers admit that they would love to incorporate the latest technology in the daily lives of their senior loved ones because they realize the benefits that can be achieved according to the report.

Despite the availability of numerous types of home monitoring devices, of the 67% of caregivers who report wanting to use them, only one tenth of caregivers have begun to use these systems.

The report found that many systems on the market are fragmented, underused and not directed toward the caregivers but instead toward recipients, which means they aren’t hitting the most effective target.

This report from AARP and Park Associates is designed to:

  • Encourage manufacturers, investors, and businesses to define their customers, understand who really comprises their market
  • Examine in depth the real needs and challenges family caregivers might be looking at and seeing the problem from their perspective
  • Review problems associated with current solutions to find lessons for future solutions
  • Find gaps between what is available and what might be needed in this sector
  • Demonstrate areas of opportunities in the caregiving market in need of solutions that might be ripe for innovations and potential business growth

Areas of Opportunity

The report, using data from existing sources on technology usage and new survey results, identified six areas of opportunities for innovation of systems to be useful for caregivers.

Let’s look at each area and the potential needs caregivers may find solutions through technology.

  1. Daily Activities

Completing the essential tasks of daily living for seniors and their caregivers take a great deal of time each day.

Getting help with some of these tasks could free caregivers up to do other important things, including caring for themselves. Not just personal care tasks but also home repairs, scheduling appointments, transportation, and managing paperwork can drain caregivers time.

Home care, modifications and renovations and simple maintenance are big areas where caregivers are looking for solutions, since 90% of seniors plan to stay in their homes as they age.

This will see the largest number of technology solutions in the coming years in areas such as home delivery, telehealth, digital inclusion and life enrichment. The way these home services are being offered is also changing with platforms that allow communication between devices and not just alerting caregivers.

Transportation services such as Uber Senior and Lyft will help caregivers get seniors out and about without doing the driving themselves.

Home delivery of meals that meet their doctor prescribed dietary restrictions and are acceptable for their likes and palates will increase with many companies beginning to provide nutritious offerings of not only groceries but prepared meals.

  1. Health and Safety Awareness

We are all concerned about preventive health, lifestyle changes and managing our chronic diseases including caregivers and seniors.

There are many tech products that can help us track our fitness but also our heart rate, blood pressure, blood sugar, oxygenation, medication administration, movement patterns and mobility, hydration, safety, nutrition and vital signs. All this data can then be sent directly to the healthcare team and remote family caregivers.

This health data can be helpful to manage symptoms and keep our seniors out of the hospital because treating a condition before it becomes critical can be achieved with proper management and monitoring.

Telehealth could be lifesaving for rural or homebound seniors who have limited access to healthcare. Being able to talk with the doctor and nurse using video programs will be added as more risk bearing entities, such as insurers, see the value in closer health monitoring for seniors.

These devices are getting smarter, easier to use and talk amongst themselves so that you won’t need 8 apps on your smartphone to follow 8 different problems when one platform will achieve successful monitoring of all 8.

The report states that caregivers’ concerns are high: 60% worry about falling and not being able to get up, 55% are afraid seniors will hurt themselves doing their daily activities, 40% worry that seniors aren’t following doctor prescribed diets that could result in poor health and 35% think their seniors will miss checking important vital signs.

  1. Care Coordination

Strategies to improve time spent on coordinating all the medical and personal care required by a senior loved one are needed to relieve caregiver stress.

Allowing healthcare systems and medical portals to communicate with each other so that a doctor visit to a clinic can be viewed by the family physician in a different system will improve overall health care delivery.

The systems are currently siloed for a variety of reasons but need to become open so that caregivers can assure their seniors are getting medical care without costly out-of-pocket expenses for duplication of services or, even worse, delay of care in an emergency when valuable health data can’t be accessed.

Caregivers are shouldering the cost of the current technology for care coordination they believe will make it easier for them to stay in control of their senior’s plan of care.

  1. Transition Support

Getting the most accurate information with which to make important life decisions for senior loved ones is a concern for caregivers.

  • When is it best to transition out of the home into a facility?
  • What do I need to know about potential facilities for the benefit of my senior?
  • How will progressive dementia play a part in this transition?
  • How and when can they access hospice care?

Caregivers who seek help from technology and professionals to help make these transitions will pay for the services themselves. Remodeling current homes to help seniors stay home as long as possible is also funded by many family caregivers.

Family caregivers often are responsible for funeral expenses when senior loved ones pass away. Legal services for important transitions, end of life planning and document preparation will be sought by caregivers as well.

Financial assistance as well as planning for the future and the transitions that may be necessary are important strategies needed by caregivers.

  1. Social Well-being

Online communities, gaming, video chatting, photo sharing platforms, as well as other types of products, can keep seniors and even caregivers connected to others. This will reduce their feelings of isolation and depression and also stimulate their mental health through social sharing.

Solutions, including digital companions, are needed to improve socialization, especially since 50% of women older than 75 live alone.

Technology has made socialization more personalized and available for seniors and their caregivers. Social media use continues to grow among seniors as they become more comfortable with using technology.

As with other technology, ease of use and simplicity will make them more accepting of it in order to gain the benefits. 

  1. Caregiver Quality of Life

The needs of caregivers are often unmet, largely because caregivers don’t ask for help with their struggles. They are not seeking solutions to make their own health and daily life better.

Unfortunately, caregivers tend to neglect their own personal needs in favor of their loved ones. It is estimated that 50% of working caregivers don’t tell their employers about their caregiving situations.

Caregivers will often spend 2 to 6 years as a caregiver for a senior loved one. 85% of caregivers don’t receive any respite from their duties while 4 in 10 caregivers report that their situation is highly stressful.

What Business is Learning

The technology innovations we see available now and on the horizon to make the life of seniors and their caregivers easier are largely being purchased by the family caregiver.

Medication management, home monitoring, safety interventions, sensors, and other home systems are of interest to caregivers. We will find more health entities, such as health systems, insurers and even employers, assisting caregivers in obtaining these products.

In 2016, only 14.8% of the $42.9 billion spent on health tech will be paid by reimbursement, 22.7% will be spent by caregivers and 57.5% by the care recipients themselves. Those numbers are not projected to change much by 2020 according to this report.

The real change by then is that amount spent jumps to $72.2 billion with the percentages of who is buying remaining static.

Business developers who want to reach the senior market are learning that their products must be usable by seniors. The products themselves could be the answer to all of life’s problems, but if they are hard to use they will sit in a drawer collecting dust. Simple solutions are necessary.

Affordability is also a must for caregivers who seek solutions but have limited resources.

Find What Works for Seniors & Family Caregivers

We will see more companies joining together to create solutions that can be served to seniors and caregivers across the country not just in one location as well as providing broader solutions instead of meeting only one or two areas of concern. They will meet many needs at one time in one system when they collaborate.

Changes in governmental regulations on the horizon will allow more healthcare professionals to join the telehealth market. How they are reimbursed is an important question for professionals as well as if their licenses will cover them across state lines.

Family caregivers who are able to understand their current and future needs and who are able to seek innovative solutions, including technology, will have an easier time maintaining a work-life balance and their own health.

We need to continue to advocate for options that meet caregiver’s needs and are either funded by insurers or more affordable to use.

Including seniors in technology use by making products more simple and interoperable will help caregivers too!