Just after my father’s 75th birthday party in 2016 I started to notice it, a low-level worry humming in the background. I wasn’t panicked yet, but I realized my parents were aging by the minute, and I wasn’t sure of the game plan should one or both of them have an accident or became ill.
I found out my answer in early 2017, when, in the space of six months, my father fell twice and injured his wrist, while my mother drove herself to the hospital after suffering heart palpitations. Although I think moving into assisted living might be a good option for Mom and Dad in the future, that’s not how they see it. They fully intend to live independently, like 90 percent of all persons 60 and over, according to The United States of Aging Survey 2012.
I know this arrangement will mean my parents will need increasing assistance in instrumental activities of daily living, or IADLs, and, at some point, I will likely be the one ensuring they take their pills, make their appointments, and eat healthy meals, even though I live 70 miles away.
My parents’ health problems hit me on an emotional level — my vague worries turned to full-blown anxiety, fear and powerlessness. I don’t mean to sound bleak — in many ways, caregiving will bring me closer to my parents — but coordinating eldercare, especially from a distance, is an enormous job that often comes with an emotional price tag. Recently, I put out a survey targeting informal caregivers and received over 700 responses. Of the respondents, almost 93 percent work full-time and 57 percent spend between 10 and 20 hours per week — the equivalent of another part-time job — providing unpaid eldercare.
Technology to the rescue, or is it?
In my own situation — once I got my emotions in check — I started looking for things to help make caregiving easier and less time-consuming. I found a slew of techie products including a countless number of apps for calendaring as well as ones for medication adherence. I also found behavioral learning sensors and wearables that will soon provide fall detection as well (I see disruption in the PERS market on the horizon) plus a variety of Ambient Assistive Living gear (Smart Home for folks who are aging or have disabilities), and so on. All told, if I were to put together what I need, I’m out a couple grand and will need about six smartphone apps to get the job done.
Technology could go a long way to providing some much-needed support for caregivers — and, with 10,000 Baby Boomers hitting retirement age every day, according to Pew Research, we are going to need solutions, and fast. In just two years, 117 million Americans are expected to need care of some kind, yet the overall number of caregivers is only expected to reach 45 million, notes AARP’s Caregiving Innovation Frontiers study. Technology would seem to be the obvious answer especially given that informal caregivers are more wired than most and seven in ten say they would use technology.
Why caregivers are avoiding technology
There’s an interesting twist, however — only 7 per cent of caregivers actually use tech devices to help with caregiving duties, according to this 2016 AARP Caregivers and Technology report. I was initially baffled by this disparity, until I it dawned on me that most caregiving technology is failing caregivers. My own experience showed me that most caregiving-related tech solutions are poorly designed and, overall, the offerings are extremely fragmented — caregivers are being met with a piecemeal of apps and gadgets.
Most people don’t have the tolerance for technology that I do (I’m a technologist); in fact, many caregivers are so overwhelmed they keep to the status quo, trying to keep their head above water using traditional tools.
What do caregivers really need?
So what is the solution for time-strapped caregivers? I think they really needan integrated multi-faceted app that could help them keep track of their loved one’s health, arrange services, and coordinate tasks with friends and family members. Furthermore, it must be something that can be adjusted to individual (and changing) needs and that is user-friendly, as not all elders are comfortable with smartphones or text messages.
Technology will without doubt play a role in easing the burdens of family caregivers but a market full of fragmented offerings and poorly designed product won’t help as much as we’d like it to. With year over year consumer tech adoption on the rise across all age groups and the signs of Smart Home solutions finally breaking out of the early adopter stage, it’s time to ensure we are addressing the needs of caregivers and their loved ones without forcing them to become technologists.
If you’re struggling with the demands of caregiving, find out how unna can help lighten the load at unna.io.