Caregivers are the heart and soul of our nation’s fractured long-term care system. They fill a critical role in our society by providing essential support and assistance to those who are unable to care for themselves due to age, illness or disability. While caregiving can be deeply gratifying, it also comes with significant challenges and stressors. Many caregivers find themselves juggling multiple responsibilities, managing complex medical regimens, and dealing with emotional and physical exhaustion.
A recent report from AARP titled “Valuing the Invaluable” shines a spotlight on the heroic support of the nearly 38 million family caregivers across the United States. From support with daily activities to managing care tasks and coordinating medical care, family caregivers provided an estimated $600 billion in unpaid care in 2021.
Despite the growing demand for long-term care services, the shortage of caregivers is increasing. In fact, there aren’t enough caregivers to provide the critical services needed for an expanding aging population. Research shows that the number of people over age 65 is expected to double between 2000 and 2030, which illustrates the dire need for more caregivers. At the same time, the national caregiver deficit is projected to reach 151,000 by 2030 and 355,000 by 2040.
While solving for the caregiver shortage crisis will take a multi-faceted approach, digital health technology can play an essential role in alleviating some of the caregiver burden by easing the challenges of care delivery and enhancing the quality of life for this vulnerable population.
Digital health technology can be a powerful tool to help alleviate the caregiver burden by enabling caregivers to remotely monitor the health and well-being of those in their care. Connected health devices such as personal emergency response services (PERS), smartwatches, and remote patient monitoring (RPM) allow caregivers and healthcare providers to remotely track activity levels and vital signs and be alerted to abnormalities that may require an intervention. For example, a user may press their PERS device to request a lift assist and their caregiver is notified. Or a patient may have incorrectly taken their medication, which caused an increase in their blood pressure, and through RPM, their care team is alerted to the abnormal blood pressure so they can intervene promptly. These technologies offer around-the-clock support while minimizing the need for frequent in-person visits to the doctor and easing the physical and emotional burden on caregivers.
Another critical responsibility for caregivers is managing complicated medication regimens. In fact, roughly 50% of older adults do not take their medication as prescribed. Whatever the reason for medication nonadherence, the consequences result in poorer health and an increased risk of hospitalization. One digital health tool to help caregivers ensure the right medication and dosage at the right time is automated medication dispensers. These devices help ensure that medications are taken correctly and reduce the risk of medication errors, easing the caregiver’s stress and enhancing patient safety. If a scheduled medication dose is missed, the device notifies a control center, which contacts the caregiver via text message, email or automated phone call. This helps to ensure adherence and eliminate the anxiety of managing medications while delivering peace of mind to patients, caregivers and families.
Safety concerns are a common source of stress for caregivers, particularly when caring for individuals with conditions such as dementia. Certain PERS technology can incorporate mobility and activity tracking that alerts an individual’s care team to unusual changes in their step count or gait that may be a potential indicator of a decline in health or cognitive function. These notifications prompt earlier interventions that can help reduce further risk before an emergency visit or hospitalization is required. Other capabilities, such as geofencing, can provide an additional layer of safety and peace of mind by notifying caregivers when a user leaves and returns safely home to help ensure their safety.
AI Virtual Health Assistants
Another example of digital health technology that can help ease the burden on caregivers is an AI virtual health assistant. AI virtual health assistants can provide 24/7 support to users through phone and SMS text communications. They can streamline questions, deliver health assessments, send medication reminders and alerts for daily vitals collection, and provide health education to users. Unlike traditional customer service representatives, they are available around the clock, ensuring that individuals can access assistance whenever they need it.
Caregiving can be emotionally and physically draining, and caregivers often experience isolation and stress. Digital health technologies such as remote monitoring, medication management, and AI virtual health assistants can offer support to help caregivers by easing the challenges of care delivery, improving quality of life, and enhancing the overall caregiving experience. By embracing these digital tools, caregivers can find some much-needed relief and support for those who depend on them.