Mobile Devices, Apps and Online Tools: The Changing Caregiving Landscape

The way we care for aging loved ones is changing as rapidly as the number of family caregivers is increasing across the U.S. And that means technology needs to keep up, as Baby Boomers and other Sandwich Gen-ers are demanding more modern tools to manage their loved ones’ care–even from across the miles. The tech landscape is happy to oblige–but are developers meeting the bar when it comes to engaging caregivers?

Caregivers relying on the Internet more and more

According to recent data from the Pew Internet & American Life Project, caregivers are increasingly making use of technology to help manage the care of their loved ones, connect with other caregivers for emotional support and even to research disease-specific treatment options and coping strategies. There are quite a few new apps on the market targeted to caregivers, but Pew’s data suggests that caregivers aren’t yet embracing the power of Web applications.

Pew’s latest research reveals some compelling statistics:

  • 39 percent of adults in the U.S. are serving as caregivers to another adult with significant health issues.
  • 72 percent of caregivers have gone online in search of heath-related information–compared to just 50 percent of non-caregivers.
  • 90 percent of survey respondents have a cell phone, but only one-third have used a mobile device to gather health data.
  • Only 11 percent of those surveyed have used online tools or applications for caregiving purposes.

That’s not stopping developers from creating platforms and applications that could make the lives of caregivers easier. Recently, a number of applications have been launched, designed to help caregivers do everything from schedule appointments to searching for health-related information.

Apps replace paper-and-pencil tracking methods

Until smartphones became the norm, caregivers often relied on paper-and-pencil methods to keep track of their loved ones’ medications, dosage amounts, times and even to track when the meds had been taken. Naturally, it’s not a foolproof tracking method–and posed challenges for long-distance caregivers and situations in which multiple family members take responsibility for helping mom or dad manage their care and medications. Coordinating that care required frequent emails, meetings and phone calls to keep everyone on the same page. But now, there are apps that can track the same information with a few simple clicks–and instantly update any other family member who logs in on the current status to avoid overlaps and dosing errors.

One application serving this need and more is Balance, created by the National Alzheimer Center. The Pill Box feature is the app’s medication manager, but the app also offers features such as an RSS feed of the latest Alzheimer’s disease information and research, along with a Doctor Diary to immediately notify your loved one’s health providers of critical changes. There are dozens of other tools and apps offering similar functionality.

So why aren’t more caregivers making use of this technology? A recent report by Gigaom says developers aren’t doing enough to engage this vast audience. According to Pew Internet’s associate director Susannah Fox, “Caregivers seem to be the kind of kid who sits in the front row of every class. They are voracious information consumers – they consume it like it’s a competitive sport. They don’t let paywalls stand in their way and they’re most likely to tap every information source that’s available to them, including offline.”

There’s a big opportunity for health companies of all kinds to engage the caregiver audience, with tools and resources for medication management, scheduling, health information and so much more. Fox says caregivers are a largely untapped market, yet they’re among the most wired and technology-hungry consumers today.

Caregivers, do you use online tools and mobile applications to manage your loved ones’ care? Which tools and resources do you find most valuable? Weigh in with your comments below.

Image via Flickr by drukelly

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