Technology for Caregivers – Alleviating Stress and Helping Caregivers Stay Organized
Technology shapes so many aspects of our life. For nearly 100 million caregivers in the US (45% of the US population), there are now a wide variety of resources that have changed how they can support their loved ones. Whether it’s handheld devices, apps, or web-based home monitoring systems, advancements in technology are changing the way caregivers can support the safety and activities of daily living (ADLs) for their loved ones.
Caregiving can be demanding both physically and mentally, and thankfully, modern technology has enabled caregivers to be more organized and feel less stressed. These advancements have also enabled aging seniors to retain some levels of independence. This helps enable them to age in place, staying in their homes if they choose to do so.
According to A Place For Mom, “With 75% of seniors age 65 and over living with a chronic health condition, including diabetes and high blood pressure, family caregivers have learned how to navigate the online resources available.” With so many resources at their disposal, technology for caregivers is easy to access;with smartphones, many apps are available at your fingertips.
“In addition to my full-time job and running my own household, I don’t know how I’d manage the appointments, medication, and medical information for both my parents without the use of technology. I can’t be with them all the time, but thanks to a number of apps and other systems in place, I have peace of mind knowing they are safe,” says Stella, a 53-year old caregiver living in NJ.
TAPPING INTO TECHNOLOGY
A recent study conducted by Cambia Health Solutions titled “Wired for Care: The New Face of Caregiving in America” found that 64% of caregivers are digitally savvy, using at least one digital tool to help manage their caregiving responsibilities. The study also found that the more time they spend caregiving, the more likely they are to be interested in digital health technology supporting their efforts.
We’ve compiled some ways technology can make the lives of caregivers like you easier. Whether you’ve already adopted just one or a few of the advancements below, we hope this list gives you valuable information to ease the demands put on you every day.
Our technology overview includes the following:
- Mobile devices
- Mobile apps, websites & online support communities
- Home monitoring technology
- GPS technology
- Telemedicine & virtual office visits
- Medical devices for medication management & other needs
At the heart of the technology is the use of mobile devices. According to the Pew Research Center, 96% of Americans now own a cellphone of some kind, with 81% owning a smartphone.
Smartphones, iPhones, iPads, and other mobile devices make it easier than ever for caregivers to stay connected to their loved ones and caregiving responsibilities. The art of caregiving lies in organization, multitasking, communication, and mobile devices to assist in daily tasks.
Most smartphones make it convenient for people to easily communicate via talk, text, email, manage calendars, keep lists, surf the web, take photos, and download apps for organization, entertainment, education, productivity.
MOBILE APPS, WEBSITES, & SUPPORT COMMUNITIES
Studies show that mobile apps are highly beneficial tocaregivers of older adults, helping to reduce burden and increase and enhance productivity.
There’s an app for nearly every caregiving need, whether it’s organizing tasks, coordinating calendars with other family members, tracking medical information, tracking medications, or managing daily living (ADLs).
These apps and websites can be personalized to meet each situation’s needs and allow for making caregiving more convenient and less daunting. A few sites and apps popular among caregivers include:
- CareZone: This comprehensive app helps caregivers with medication management. From scheduling reminders to dispensing meds, refilling prescriptions, or sharing lists of meds with doctors, CareZone is a must-have for staying on track with your loved one’s medications and health information.
- Mayo Health Manager: Caregivers can use this free online health management tool to store medical information. In addition to organizing the health information for multiple family members, The Mayo Clinic Health Manager also provides customized recommendations for each individual.
- LotsaHelpingHands.com: Caregivers can’t do it all alone, and support websites like lotsahelpinghands.com easily organize help for someone in need. This central hub allows caregivers to reach out to others for help with meals or errands.
- First Aid by American Red Cross: Caregivers know firsthand that emergencies can happen at any moment, and this app provides information on handling the most common first aid needs. Videos, safety tips, and other tools can prove useful for caregivers should an emergency arise.
- CaringBridge: No matter the health journey, CaringBridge allows a caregiver to create an online journal with health and medical updates, which can be shared with family and friends. For families scattered throughout the country, a site like CaringBridge is practical and convenient.
- Care.com: Whether help with errands, meal prep, or an in-home companion, caregivers may need to occasionally hire outside resources. Care.com enables individuals to post jobs and find appropriate caregivers.
- Headspace: Caregiving can take its toll on one’s mental health, and apps like Headspace can provide a wonderful self-care resource to reduce stress and improve focus. Practices like meditation can ease anxiety and mental stress, and Headspace makes it easy to master them.
HOME MONITORING TECHNOLOGY
One of the biggest concerns many caregivers have is monitoring their loved ones’ safety and well-being should they be home alone. Technology for caregivers can include various options such as webcams and home monitoring systems that enable caregivers to monitor daily habits and be readily available for emergencies or concerning behavior.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, falls are something one in four Americans over age 65 experience every year. Thus, they are often a common motivator for caregivers to utilize some form of technology to monitor the home.
As seniors age, there is an overwhelming desire to live at home for as long as possible. While this may cause heightened stress levels, telemonitoring services can offer caregivers some peace of mind while providing a more cost-effective solution to residential care or hiring a live-in caregiver.
According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association, telemonitoring leads to fewer emergency room visits and hospital admissions and a decreased length of stay in the hospital for seniors.
In assessing the various resources available, Amy Goyer, AARP’s national family and caregiving expert, suggests, “Start by evaluating your loved ones’ specific needs and abilities, present, and future. For example, if she has dementia, will she understand how to operate a system — or is something automatic, like a fall-detection device, more appropriate? Does he have a disorder that could hinder communication with a call center, like aphasia or hearing loss? Will limited fine motor skills make putting on a device or pushing a button too difficult?”
Once you’ve determined how the system can be utilized best, Goyer then suggests thinking about and researching the following:
- The type of equipment that will be most effective and practical
- How the monitoring and response works
- Cost, associated fees, and contracts
- Availability in your area
Here is a list of “The Best Medical Alert Systems 2020” compiled by TheSeniorList.com to get you started.
Adults with Alzheimer’s disease, the most common form of dementia, have reduced cognitive abilities, leading to disorientation, forgetfulness, and confusion. Quite often, these symptoms can result in dangerous behavior like wandering.
GPS technology can protect seniors at risk for wandering and provide their caregivers with some comfort, knowing their loved one can be tracked at all times. GPS trackers can attach to clothing or be worn on the wrist, and tell the caregiver a senior’s exact location, often in real-time. Some even detect unusual activities like pacing, lack of movement for an extended period of time, or presence in an unfamiliar environment.
Here are a few ways GPS tracking is beneficial:
- Allows seniors to be found quickly
- Prevents wandering, as designated safe zones can be set
- Enables senior to remain independent
- Gives caregivers peace of mind
This video from CaringVillage.com highlights 10 popular GPS trackers for seniors:
TELEMEDICINE & VIRTUAL OFFICE VISITS
On average, research shows that today’s caregiver spends an average of 24.4 hours a week supporting a loved one. In addition to their own personal and household duties, it’s common for caregivers to feel overwhelmed and spread thin.
Thankfully, telemedicine advances have made it easier and more convenient for both caregivers and their loved ones to virtually consult with a medical professional. Seniors and those needing care can now see doctors, specialists, and other experts all around the country.
The convenience, accessibility, and flexibility of using a computer, tablet, or smartphone for these virtual consultations have proven invaluable for caregivers. Early research has shown that these virtual visits may even be more effective than seeing a doctor in person, as it eliminates having to travel to and from the doctor’s office and sitting in the waiting room. Telemedicine can also clarify whether or not an in-person trip to the doctor is necessary, thus alleviating unnecessary hospital visits.
This video showcases how telemedicine is being used at hospitals such as Johns Hopkins Medicine to connect patients, clinicians, and the global community:
The medical professional can also benefit from virtually seeing the patient in their everyday environment and identifying risk factors and suggesting ways to solve them.
Virtual clinics are also being established in non-traditional healthcare settings, including retail locations like Wal-Mart and Rite Aid. For a small fee, a patient can connect online with a medical professional, but not always a clinician. These visits may typically have a shorter waiting time and cost less than a trip to a patient’s primary care physician.
MEDICAL DEVICES FOR MEDICATION MANAGEMENT & OTHER NEEDS
“Almost 30% of all hospital admissions for people over the age of 65 are directly attributable to medication non-compliance,” says Andy Schoonover, CEO of VRI, a health care services company with 20 years of experience in remote monitoring, medical management, and medical alert systems.
Studies show that close to half of caregivers manage their responsibilities, often with little, if any, instruction or experience. Nearly 46% of people ages 70-79 take at least five prescriptions a day. In addition to dispensing multiple pills several times a day, caregivers are often called on to dress wounds, give injections, or operate specialized medical equipment.
Thanks to technology, medication management has far surpassed the little plastic pillbox. A number of devices ensure proper dosages, come equipped with reminders, and lock for safety.
A few reputable medication management options for caregivers include:
In addition to medication management, tablet computers, and handheld devices make it easier than ever for caregivers to monitor and record a loved one’s symptoms such as:
- Vital signs
- Blood pressure
- Heart rate & oxygen levels
Corresponding apps for many of these devices make it easy and convenient for caregivers to monitor, record, and share their loved one’s health information with doctors.
Speak to your loved one’s medical professional for recommendations best suited to his/her health situation.
RELY ON THE SUPPORT AROUND YOU – TOOLS FOR CAREGIVERS
We applaud the tremendous time and effort it takes to ensure your loved one’s safety and comfort. As a caregiver, you are truly a hero!
Whether or not you depend on technology, we at The United Brain Association encourage you to find solutions and strategies to alleviate some of your responsibilities. The power and strength of the care you give is contingent upon finding ways that you can be supported as well. If you ever feel alone on your caregiving journey, know that there are many technological resources to help you!
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The United Brain Association does not endorse any of the products or services mentioned in this article.