Caregiving is as old as family. Families have always been taking care of each other. That will never change. But what has changed is the way family caregivers care for their loved ones. What separates today’s family caregivers from those of the past is the availability of technologies to aid in their labor of love.
"Caregiving technology today offers much more than just medication trackers and appointment calendars"
More than 90 million people in the U.S. are currently providing care for a chronically ill, disabled, or elderly family member or friend. That number will only increase in the coming years as baby boomers—who are now turning 65 at the rate of 10,000 every day—grow older and require care. Fortunately, there are loads of new technologies designed to make family caregivers’ lives a bit easier while keeping their loved ones safe and healthy.
Many family caregivers personally spend hours upon hours caring for their loved one. Others live at a distance and have to coordinate remotely. Family caregivers manage doctor appointments, provide transportation, make sure medications are taken on time, and keep the home going— – to name just a few of the vital tasks that they perform on a daily basis. Regardless of their caregiving situation, family caregivers are exhausted and stressed. Caregiving technologies lighten the load.
Caregiving technology today offers much more than just medication trackers and appointment calendars. There are many apps, devices, and tools that can help caregivers do almost everything from A to Z, such as monitoring vital signs, designing healthy eating plans for cancer patients, and collecting medical records all in one convenient place.
There are wearable sensors that remind a patient to take medication, provide directions, and contact family members for help if their loved one falls or if an emergency occurs. There is an exciting new virtual nurse assistant app—the world’s first—that utilizes voice recognition and artificial intelligence (AI) to place a two-minute care check-up call every day. This can allow aging-in-place seniors to be healthier, safer, and maintain their independence. One giant leap in caregiving with huge implications is improved access to online patient health and medical records. This will serve as a key tool to help patients and caregivers understand their health and manage their needs. There is rapid progress being made to allow patients and their family caregivers to easily get, use, and share their digital health and insurance information when, where, and how they want. This will empower patients, family caregivers, and providers to partner in health care decisions at every level.
Online access to medical records has grown by nearly 25 percent since 2014, and as of 2017, 52 percent of individuals have been offered online access to their medical record by a health provider or insurer. Half of those who were given the option accessed their information. What’s more, millions of family caregivers accessed their loved one’s online medical record within the past year. While we have a long way to go before we have full use of online access by patients and full interoperability of various health records, online patient portals have already made a tremendous impact.
The explosion of handheld electronic devices and smartphones has created many new possibilities for family caregivers. Recent research shows that one-third of individuals use an electronic device such as a Fitbit for monitoring their health, and 40 percent of tablet or smartphone users have a health or wellness app. There are apps, gadgets, and websites that can help family caregivers manage complex medication regimens and gather and report health data such as blood pressure and blood sugar. There are even apps to bring together caregivers and volunteers through online communities. There are ways for family caregivers to check in with their loved one via a smartphone, or to locate them with GPS if they wander off.
New caregivers need help, and even veteran family caregivers have questions sometimes. That’s why our non-profit organization, Caregiver Action Network, launched Family Caregiver Extension for Community Healthcare Outcomes (ECHO®)— a new technology that is creating a revolutionary solution. Family Caregiver ECHO® is a groundbreaking effort that will directly link family caregivers with caregiving experts in real time from the comfort of their own home using any device, be it laptop, cell phone, or even an old fashioned landline. Family caregivers will be able to get the help and support they need with their caregiving challenges right at home. Family Caregiver ECHO® uses the same technology and proven model created by the evidence-based Project ECHO® for medical practitioners.
Of course, there is no one solution to caregiving. While technology can help ease the burden, no single technology can meet all caregiving needs. But family caregivers have reason to be optimistic. There is a growing market for caregiving technology and new technologies are constantly being developed to help family caregivers and their loved ones. That’s great news for family caregivers! HT