Technology Helps Caregivers, But It’s No Substitute for Human Interaction

Cell phones, laptops and other devices can be resources for caregivers

by
- Posted on Jan 9, 2019

A young woman using her cell phone as a source of information.

Lisa Weitzman, LISW-S is a Care Consultant and Assistant Master Trainer at Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging.

We seem to have an app for everything today. On a regular basis, we turn first to our cell phones, laptops or other devices to provide us with information on a multitude of topics, from the 10-day forecast to the location of the nearest 24-hour pharmacy to the adjusted earned run average of our favorite baseball player. Technology offers answers to questions and solutions to problems, including those related to caregiving for the older adults in our lives. Now, more and more, caregivers, as well as older adults themselves, are being directed to technology to help them navigate the particular issues they face. 

Amazon’s Alexa will soon be programmed to answer health-related questions and to help manage Type 2 diabetes. Other voice-activated devices offer personalized reminders to take medications, address personal hygiene or complete other day-to-day tasks. Software developers are also rapidly releasing tools that can facilitate communication between loved ones and their family caregivers, and offer caregivers daily status reports and emergency alerts. We can even “friend” Medicare on Facebook.

As convenient as technology may be, we have to consider whether these advancements are adequate to handle the unique needs of an older adult or caregiver. How well do they meet your needs as a caregiver?  How effective are these tools at addressing the very specific circumstances of your loved one?

2017 Pew Research Center study showed that 80% of adults over the age of 65 use cell phones, while 67% use the internet and 34% have social media accounts. Although many seniors are adapting to technology and reaping its benefits, it can be more difficult for some to deal with technology’s various aspects. An older person may have trouble remembering how to use a device. It may also be harder to make out words and images on the screen or to properly respond to commands or prompts. Chronic health conditions can also limit energy and the capacity to learn new tasks, no matter how simple they may seem.

Technology can offer caregivers immediate access to information, be it about your loved one’s diagnosis or the home care providers in your area, and if you adopt smart home technologies, mobile patient monitoring or GPS tracking, you can even stay informed of your loved one’s activities and condition remotely. But too much information can be overwhelming and confusing, and it can be difficult to determine what is credible. It is hard to navigate resources when you are not certain what you need or when your needs are constantly changing.

While technology is a great tool to help simplify caregiving, it may work best in conjunction with a strong human support network. Studies show that the more financial, informational and emotional support and resources you have, the more resilient you are in the face of stress (Bass, D. M., & Noelker, L. S. (1997). Family Caregiving: A Focus for Aging Research and Intervention. In Kenneth, F.F. (Eds.). Gerontology: Perspectives and Issues. (2nd. Ed.) (pp. 245-264). New York: Springer Publishing Company). Technology can be a valuable and immediate way to link you to that crucial peer support. However, it may not necessarily provide you with long-term solutions to address your overall well-being and unmet needs

Since each caregiving situation is unique, technology may prove to be just one tool out of many in your toolkit rather than the sole solution. It can help you find that first referral for actual in-person assistance and make it easier for you and your loved one to manage daily tasks.  

Ultimately, there may not yet be a substitute for interactions with caring service providers who target your specific, evolving needs; offer quality information from knowledgeable sources; and focus on mobilizing family, friend and community resources to support you wherever you are in your caregiving journey.

 
View Comments