Aging Forward Series: Caregiving + Tech
Health Horizons hosts Caregiving + Tech
How could technology support family caregivers over the next decade?
On February 26, 2014, Health Horizons hosted a conversation on Caregiving and Technology. Caregiving is a fact of life for nearly 40% of all adult Americans (and for a growing number of children as well). As the U.S. population ages, the overall amount of caregiving will continue to increase.
This webcast explored role of technology in supporting caregivers and their families. Moderated by IFTF’s Richard Adler, guest experts were Susannah Fox, Associate Director of the Pew Research Center's Internet & American Life Project, and Rajiv Mehta, founder and CEO of Bhagheera Consulting and a leader of the Quantified Self movement internationally.
Caregivers and Technology Usage
Susannah Fox kicked off the discussion by summarizing the results of Pew’s recent research report on caregivers and their use of technology, Family Caregivers are Wired for Health (2013). Caregiving is an activity that cuts across all demographic groups, it is especially prevalent among adults ages 30 to 64. Caregivers are more heavily engaged in the pursuit of health information, support, care and advice, both online and offline, than non-caregivers. For example, nearly three-quarters (72%) of caregivers gather health information online, compared to just half of non-caregivers.
Beyond using the Internet for information gathering, caregivers are engaging in “health hacks,” with simple, innovative, practical solutions to real home-health challenges, and noted that the most effective solutions do not need to be high tech. For example, Susannah cited the example of a caregiver who was responsible for helping a person who was much larger and heavier to get out of bed, and, after struggling with the task, came up with the use of a large spatula to help with this task. Susannah’s examples of new information and “health hacks” signal important changes occurring in caregiving—caregivers are looking beyond the clinic for pragmatic solutions for their daily needs.
A “Ground Floor” View of Caregiving
Rajiv Mehta shared that he had similar findings from his work. His app, Unfrazzle, is a task management and coordination tool for caregivers, and conversations with his users have provided him a “ground floor” view of the day-to-day realities of caregiving. He noted that although caregiving is often discussed in a medical framework, as if it was a substitute for interventions by clinicians, much caregiving is simpler and more mundane.
Rajiv cited data from several logs of daily caregiving tasks. The examples included a couple caring for an elderly mother with advanced Alzheimer’s, a woman with cystic fibrosis caring for herself, and a couple who between them cared for the husband's mother, the wife's brother and the husband himself. Although the variety and nature of activities was different from caregiver to the next, they all performed a wide variety of tasks that extended far beyond just “medical” tasks.
Additionally, he noted that, by tracking their tasks, the caregivers themselves were surprised to discover how much time and effort they spent on caregiving. Realizing how much they were actually doing helped the caregivers to be less harsh on themselves.
Susannah and Rajiv engaged the audience in a discussion. They answered questions around the challenges of supporting caregivers in a more holistic way, by engaging families and communities in care. The greatest challenge of the caregiving community, Rajiv noted, is its disparate nature; cutting across demographics and intensity of need during the act of being a caregiver.
- Richard Adler, @reallyrichard, IFTF Distinguished Fellow
- Rajiv Mehta, Bhagheera Consulting
- Susannah Fox, @susannahfox, Pew Research
- Family Caregivers are Wired for Health. Co-author, Susannah Fox
- Health Technology for the Other 99% (video), by Rajiv Mehta
- Unleashing the Power of Each Individual to Manage Their Health and Partner in Their Health Care, Enabled by Information and Technology, ONC white paper
- Reframing Health to Embrace Design of Our Own Well-being, A paper from a leading design journal (ACM Interactions); Co-authored by Rajiv Mehta
- Caregiving: the odyssey of becoming more human, The Lancet