AARP: We Need Technology to Bridge the Caregiver Gap

With the majority of older Americans wanting to age in place, the number of caregivers is set to grow rapidly, along with a huge opportunity for supportive technology in this space. But the caregiving market, which represents a $279 billion opportunity over the next few years, is untapped when it comes to technology use, according to a recent report from AARP, Caregivers & Technology: What They Want and Need .

The majority of caregivers—71%—want to use technology to supplement their duties and assist in caring for loved ones, but not many are using technology now, AARP’s report found. The research was conducted for the project by HITLAB, a health care innovation lab dedicated to improving quality and accessibility of health care around the world.

There are roughly 40 million family caregivers in the United States, and more than half are at least 50 years old. The other half are part of the millennial generation and generation X.

“This presents a tremendous opportunity to innovate technologies that serve unmet needs and to leapfrog current offerings with better approaches,” the report reads.

From assisting with activities of daily living (ADL), such as bathing, dressing and eating, to the varied tasks associated with daily living, including driving shopping and managing medications, technology can seriously support caregiver duties.

The top five tasks that caregivers in the report were most interested in using technology to support were:

  • Medication refill and pickup (79.1% said they were interested)
  • Making and supervising medical appointments (77.9%)
  • Assessing health needs and conditions (77.5%)
  • Ensuring home safety (77.5%)
  • Monitoring medication adherence (77.2%)

Why Current Usage is Low

While only a small portion of caregivers are already using technology that support their duties—just 7%, according to AARP—most are likely to start using some technology functions, especially if it was provided to them. However, fewer caregivers said they were likely to use technology than those who said they were interested.

“While 79% of caregivers reported being interested in using technology, 59% of caregivers report being likely to use existing technology, suggesting that technology that is currently available on the marketplace does not adequately meet their needs,” the report finds.

There are also a number of barriers to widen adoption of caregiving technology the report found, including a lack of awareness, cost, perception that technology won’t actually improve caregiving and lack of time and resources to learn new softwares and functions. While these represent significant hurdles for the digital health industry, there is a great deal to be positive about, particularly as younger generations become caregivers.

“We see a strong likelihood of this younger, rising and tech-friendly generation of caregivers to seek, adopt and share technologies that support their caregiving responsibilities,” AARP found.

As younger generations are already actively using technology as part of their daily lives, the interest of tech use skews toward future caregivers.

“Innovators can be optimistic about developing technologies that make a meaningful impact on the broad population of America’s caregivers because rates of caregivers already using or likely to use available technology are far higher among millennials and Generation Y than those 50+,” AARP reported.

Above all, caregivers are most interested in simple and inexpensive technology that enables them to “untether” them from needing to observe their loved one at all times to ensure “in case anything happens.” Technology that alerts caregivers when a loved one needs urgent attention also has high potential.

Where Home Health Can Win

Technology that can enable caregivers to arrange in-home care or transportation is an opportunity for the home health industry. However, family caregivers are also hesitant to hire people they don’t know. This represent a huge challenge for startups, which must overcome this barrier of distrust.

“To succeed in this area, innovators will need their technologies to communicate a high level of credibility in the platform and the available service providers, as well as build an adequate screening process into the user experience,” AARP advised innovators. Additionally, as this group represents functions that are typically within the abilities and control of a caregiver, the added convenience must significantly outweigh both the real and perceived costs of giving up control and introducing additional variability to the overall picture of giving care.”

Written by Amy Baxter