Will caregivers embrace the technology they need?

For a Millennial, Arielle Burstein spends a lot of time thinking about aging. She works with businesses to understand how demography will change how they design products and services and manage their workforce.

She sees the nation getting older and knows that will mean more people will be in a role as a caregiver to an older family member or loved one. When she thinks What the Future, she hopes technology can ease that burden for the caregivers and the cared-for alike.

GenPop: Who is bearing the brunt of the caregiver burden?

Arielle Burstein: I think women are disproportionally affected. Also, people are surprised to find that many Millennials are caregivers. Currently, one in four family caregivers is a Millennial, and we are more likely to be balancing both work and caregiving duties.

GenPop: As the Millennials and their Boomer parents get older, they’re also more likely to be caring for their children as well as parents and relatives too, right? What are the implications?

Burstein: There are significant financial impacts on caregivers as well as physical, physiological and social [impacts] because people are spending time caring rather than doing things for themselves. Caregivers have been called “the hidden patients.”

GenPop: With the shortage of professional caregivers, there’s an increasing demand for family caregivers, yes?

Burstein: There’s also a strong desire on the part of families to keep their loved ones either in their own home or living with them so they may decide to undertake this responsibility of caring for them on their own.

GenPop: And the hope is, of course, that technology can help reduce some of the stress for both sides. Some of these technologies exist already, but we’ll see more in coming years.

Burstein: One thing we’ve already seen [that has] had great success is ride-sharing/hailing services. When it comes to coordinating someone’s healthcare, transportation in particular can be a huge challenge. So to be able to pay a reasonable amount of money to send someone over to a doctor’s appointment in the middle of a weekday is kind of incredible.

Arielle Burstein
Arielle Burstein, Associate director, Center for the Future of Aging, the Milken Institute

34.2 Million

The number of caregivers who have provided unpaid care to an adult over age 50 in the last 12 months.

(Source: National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, 2015)

GenPop: And as those fleets become more autonomous that will likely increase their utility, especially as people already view these technologies as easy-to-use, according to the survey.

Burstein: In my experience, viewing something as both helpful and easy-to-use are the two most critical factors. Designers definitely need to be considering all of the end users. I will say that I think people underestimate older adults. But with caregiving technology in particular, you’re asking an already busy and possibly overwhelmed population to take a chance and spend a little bit of money on something that may or may not help them.

GenPop: What does tech-enabled caregiving look like in the future?

Burstein: Primarily caregivers are coordinating healthcare, so something that allows caregivers to keep track and maintain their health. We know from the National Alliance for Caregiving that what caregivers seek out the most is tech that helps and delivers, tracks, monitors and coordinates. We need something in the Internet of Things family that’s feeding physiological data. As a caregiver I need to know my mom took her blood pressure and it was good, or had her meds at lunch.

GenPop: What else?

Burstein: Security is another is another big one. I think communication technologies are really critical both to sometimes provide entertainment and keep loved ones in touch with their family – especially if they’re at a distance. Obviously transportation is another big one.

GenPop: What is the less idealized version, where all of these things don’t quite work the way we want them to?

Burstein: The less idealized version isn’t relieving the caregiver of any of their responsibilities. The technology isn’t providing any respite, or it’s difficult to use and it gets abandoned, or it makes the loved one feel old or dependent.

GenPop: I would think in the idealized world you would have many of these features for your own instead of a completely separate suite of devices and apps.

Burstein: I think well-designed things work for everyone. If I get up in the middle of the night and I want to be able to turn the lights on with a voice-automated system [it’s great that it] also works for someone in their 80s who is getting up and out of bed. If they’re designed well, they work for someone at 20 and someone at 80.

GenPop: Tech could also be used to connect caregivers in virtual communities for support and advice, too.

Burstein: We know it’s very isolating to be a caregiver not just because of your duties and the time spent caring for someone, but [also because] oftentimes other people don’t understand or they’re not comfortable being with you and the person you’re caring for. So, absolutely, I think that’s key.

GenPop: What is needed to encourage use? The data from the survey shows high levels of receptiveness as these technologies develop.

Burstein: There’s no shame in having programs for a technology education. I think it will serve caregivers and our aging population to keep up where we can. This is often people’s first experience with seeing aging: as a caregiver. In the United States we’ve chosen to be independent and career-driven but that often means that you’re on the other side of the country from your family or the people that you love.

“In my experience, viewing something as both helpful and easy-to-use are the two most critical factors. Designers definitely need to be considering all of the end users.”

Interest in technology to make caregiving easier is highSource: Ipsos survey conducted between June 6 and 8, 2018 among 2,007 adults in the U.S.

July 24, 2018

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