Silicon Valley is beginning to realize that there is an ever-increasing need for technology—mobile, online, and in-home—to support caregivers. A report from the National Alliance for Caregiving, the "Alliance," comes on the heels of an April 2014 roundtable that featured government experts, Silicon Valley entrepreneurs, caregiving advocates and researchers.
The report, "Catalyzing Technology to Support Family Caregiving," summarizes the recommendations developed by the roundtable, in the hopes of motivating the industry to develop useful technology tools and apps for caregivers.
Today's caregivers are connected
In the foreword of the report, President and CEO of the Alliance, Gail Gibson Hunt, explains that "today, most family caregivers are connected to technologies, whether through the Internet, mobile apps, or telemonitoring devices that can help friends and support the care of a loved one."
She also explains that there are tons of digital solutions out there, but "these solutions must be tailored to the needs and abilities of the family caregiver. Recent research shows that nearly 40 percent of people in the U.S. are caring for an adult or child with disabilities, a number that is increasing as Baby Boomers age. Caregivers increasingly rely on technology to help with medication management and reconciliation, to get information on a treatment or diagnosis, to find support, and to search for services."
The purpose of the report is to urge those working in Silicon Valley to address the needs of caregivers and meet them where they are, by providing a better understanding of those caregivers' needs.
Digging deeper into caregivers' needs
To get a clear picture of those caregivers' needs, we look to 2010, when the Alliance published a study with United Health Group. "The e-Connected Family Caregiver: Bringing Caregiving into the 21st Century," surveyed family caregivers about the likelihood of using 12 different technologies to help them care for their loved ones. An overwhelming majority of those surveyed were most interested in one of four systems: Personal Health Record Tracking, Caregiving Coordination System, Medication Support System, and Symptom Monitor and Transmitter.
It seems as though Silicon Valley has been paying attention to what these experts and caregivers want, as countless apps for caregivers currently are available for various types of devices. Our goal is to highlight some of the most useful, reliable and user-friendly apps out there for caregivers. Our recommendations are below, in no particular order.
A free, cloud-based iPad app, Healthspek gives individuals and caregivers the ability to track, collect and share personal and family health records. Healthspek also is helpful for recording physician, insurance and emergency contacts. Caregivers especially love the way in which the app helps them manage medications, medical charts and images, and track vitals. To make communication between caregivers and medical providers easier, Healthspek receives medical records and facilitates electronic communications with providers, and, with patient's permission, doctors can access records through Healthspek's ChartNow feature.
Sometimes, coordinating care between caregivers is the most challenging task of all. Unfrazzle is a free app for iPhones, iPads and Android devices that seeks to make the lives of caregivers a little easier by helping them coordinate tasks for themselves or with other family caregivers. The app allows caregivers to keep track of day-to-day caregiving tasks, share some or all of the tasks, and choose which tasks to track or assign. With flexible reminders for scheduling one-time or ongoing events, caregivers don't have to worry about forgetting something. Plus, privacy controls allow users to decide who sees which information. Caregivers also have peace of mind when using Unfrazzle, because they are able to check in to make sure assigned tasks are completed.
Alzheimer's is a very specific disease, and Balance: for Alzheimer's Caregivers is an iPhone and iPad app designed specifically for caregivers of Alzheimer's patients. Because to the nature of Alzheimer's, it is especially important for caregivers to track behavioral and emotional changes and share them with other caregivers and doctors, and the app makes those tasks so much simpler for caregivers. At a reasonable $0.99, Balance is a popular app among caregivers because it also provides news, information, and research relating to Alzheimer's. Users also take advantage of Balance's medication management features, including refill date, start date, dosage, and more. Plus, Balance makes doctor's visits more manageable because the caregivers can log symptoms and take notes.
One of the best apps for collaborating with other family members and caregivers, Caregiver's Touch has been referred to as "The Cadillac of Apps" by Caregivers blogger Ann Napoletan. Create as many as six profiles that each stores information on tabs for easy access. To get the full web version, a $19.95/month or $199.95/year subscription is required, but the $4.99 iPhone app is available to sync with the subscription service; one may be used without the other. Caregiver's Touch includes a simple tool for organizing and storing information and then sharing it with family members in several categories: calendar, contacts, emergency, insurance, legal and financial, medical history, medication and notes. The app also helps caregivers share information with family members securely.
Billed as "the easiest to use (and understand) drug information app and medication organizer," Pocket Pharmacist has earned outstanding reviews from medical professionals and users. Caregivers can rest easy knowing the app will alert them to potentially dangerous drug interactions. The $1.99 iPhone and iPad app allows caregivers to organize family members' medications with medication reminders, automatic interaction alerts, and profile printouts, plus create multiple medication lists with the Med Box med organizer.
With caregivers and their loved ones making so many trips to the doctor, it can very difficult to keep track of and remember what physicians say at eachappointments. And, if there are several caregivers for one individual, keeping track of the topics discussed in the exam room can be nearly impossible. CareCoach, a free app available for both Android devices and the iPhone, solves the problem. With CareCoach, caregivers have the ability to review questions and notes to ask the physician and then record a doctor's visit with your smart phone. After the visit, users can securely upload to their online CareCoach account and then choose who can listen to the recording, for a convenient way to share information about the family member's care.
Lotsa Helping Hands realizes that caregiving takes a community effort. So, the app helps users to ask for help, and it makes it easy for members of the community to know what to do, and when to do it. Sometimes, caregivers need to lean on one another and community members for support as they face the challenges of caring for a loved one: Lotsa Helping Hands has a solution for that, too. The free app includes a host of helpful features for caregivers, including a Help Calendar, Community Building Features, Custom Sections, Photo Gallery, Message Boards, Well Wishes, and more.
Do you use any apps to help you in your daily caregiving duties? We'd love to hear about which apps you have tried, and which have worked the best for your situation. Leave a comment to get the conversation moving.
Image via Flickr by ebayink