No one really knows how many people are caregivers. In the United States, estimates range from 34 million (US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) to nearly 66 million (Family Caregivers Alliance). Everyone does agree, though, that caregivers need support and a mini-industry seems to be growing in response to this need.
That support starts the old-fashioned way with books and publications. The “Caregiver’s Handbook” published as a special report by the Harvard Medical School and the classic “The 36 Hour Day,” (now in its 5th edition), by Peter Ravins and Nancy Mace, are two time-tested examples.
But today’s caregivers are finding more and new sources of advice and support, much of it digital. A survey by the National Alliance for Caregiving showed that 29 percent of caregivers questioned said they turned to the Internet for help, while 28 percent consulted doctors and another 10 percent nurses and other health professionals.
Such findings are instantly out-of-date as more and more caregivers–many of them boomers familiar with the use of digital technology–find answers to their questions and support for their efforts on their smartphones, tablets and computers. Increasingly, it seems, America’s caregivers are turning to high tech tools when they need help.
The proliferation of PERS, or Personal Emergency Care Systems, designed to alert caregivers and families to falls and other emergencies and summon help immediately, demonstrates how quickly caregivers and families have come to rely on technology. Another example is the now widespread use of GPS to locate wandering seniors.
Answers and More
Digital technology, both web-based and apps for smartphones and other devices, provides answers for caregivers confronted with a problem, can teach them new skills, offers outlets for stress–download Angry Birds, a kid favorite, or maybe play a game of solitaire– and helps them connect with peer groups to share the dilemmas and frustrations of caregiving.
Judging from the fuzzy estimates that go beyond 100,000 plus, no one really knows how many health-related apps and sites exist. What they do know is that this is foreign territory, so “user beware” applies. For instance, Harvard Medical School has identified health-related apps as “a new frontier of medicine–a territory still largely uncharted, unregulated and unstable.”
Browsing through lists of health-related apps and sites, you will find those that provide specific information about disease conditions, manage and dispense medications, keep track of appointments, store vital medical information (both yours and the care recipient’s), manage finances, make shopping lists and so forth. You need it and you will find it, and much more. (See Resources for Family Caregivers to jumpstart to helpful links to sites and apps for the caregiver.)
Such searching comes with a major warning. You need to be able to trust the source of the information. For information on specific conditions, for instance, check, Medline, National Library of Medicine, Mayo Clinic or other known and trustworthy sources. Read user reviews, but cautiously because companies have been known to pay for favorable reviews (surprise!!!). You can ask your health professional for suggestions. Other caregivers may have suggestions, too, and so may your friends.
Also, you should be sure that the site or app applies to your specific caregiving problems–no point cluttering with something you don’t need or can’t use– and that it works on the device you are using. (For instance, not all apps that work on an iPhone work with an android-based system, and vice versa.).
Help with Reminders and Sharing Information
Caregivers increasingly are turning to one of the many automated systems that remind seniors when to take their medicines. Some of these, which have been pre-filled either by the caregiver or pharmacy, dispense in proper dosages. Rather than relying on an alarm of some sort, some caregivers can pre-program voice reminders, such as “mom, it is time to take…” Most of these systems also alert caregivers when medications are missed.
Medication reminders are only one piece of a larger move to using technology to monitor and provide medical care to seniors– often referred to as telecare or telemed. Caregivers use smartphones and cell phones to check vital signs, store the information or transmit directly to physicians in real time. By using SKYPE or Facetime, caregivers can consult directly with physicians who can check on patients and provide care remotely, a valuable feature in rural and isolated areas, and also for housebound care recipients.
Caregivers (and everyone else) often have trouble staying organized, and keeping track of appointments, to-do lists, and the like. Some caregivers have found it useful to have a calendar that keeps track of appointments and care needs and is accessible by family and friends. With some, caregivers can solicit volunteers, maybe to drive to an appointment or suggest a good time to visit. Google Calendar, Lotsa Helping Hands and Tyze have proven useful but other similar apps and sites are available.
Several apps, including Health Vault and WebMDHealthManager are among those that help caregivers organize personal health records and keep track of diagnoses and test results. Keeping notes and jotting down questions before a doctor’s visit serve as a good reminder, while taking notes during a visit is important and provides a record of what was discussed and decided, and there are apps for note-taking, too. Evernote is one example.
Caregivers and families also use apps to share photos and what amounts to a daily diary to keep seniors in touch with friends, families and the world around them. Since digital technology offers so many ways to do this, you will have to experiment to figure out which work best for you and your care recipient.
Because there are so many apps and Web sites to check, and numbers grow almost daily, several organizations have identified a few they consider most useful. These sites are offered as a way to jumpstart your search, but with a caveat: the information does not include the most recent entrants into the field.