High Tech, Low Takeup: Caregivers Lag in Tech Adoption

Half of caregivers spend more than $5,000 per year!

technology for caregivers
Technology in aging services is exploding. But new research from caring,com says adoption is not. Getty Images

Tablets for grandparents. Cell phones with big buttons. Apps to monitor your loved ones – or their paid caregivers. Technology solutions to the challenges of aging are exploding – but in recent research by Caring.com, family members who care for an aging loved one said none substitute for people. In fact, caregivers lag in technology adoption.

When presented with a list of “Age Tech” products and services, family caregivers searching online for senior care keywords most often chose none of the above.

The only in-home technology that scored higher than 10% utilization among caregiving families was a plain old push-button personal emergency response system, technology that has been around for decades and was used by just 14% of survey respondents for their loved ones.

Yet 30% of families said they pay professionals, such as home care agencies, to care for their loved ones in their homes, often to supplement care provided by a family member.

Survey Reveals the Challenge of Caregiving

The survey revealed the heavy toll that caregiving takes on families. Caregivers report their own health challenges (such as trouble sleeping and high blood pressure), which often mirror those of their loved ones. They see negative impacts on their work performance (including absenteeism and on-the-job distractions) and spend tens of thousands of dollars annually in their caregiving role. Still, few report taking advantage of technologies designed to relieve the burden of care, including:

  • Medication management technology is being used by 9% of families
  • Internet-based care coordination sites are used by 4% of families;
  • Tele-health remote monitoring technologies are only being used by 1% of families.

Even low-tech home modifications, such as raised toilet seats or grab bars in the shower, are available to fewer than half of seniors living at home

Caregiving families do seek assistance caring for their loved ones but turn to people rather than apps or devices. Almost half of those whose loved ones live independently in their own homes and about one-third of those who live with their loved ones pay outsiders to provide in-home care.

And they do so despite the fact that this care can be expensive. Half of all caregivers spent more than $5,000 per year assisting their loved ones, and 9% spent more than $50,000 on caregiving-related expenses. As many as 30% report feeling trapped in a sub-optimal care situations by finances, yet fewer than 10% take advantage of government assistance programs.

What Do Caregiving Families Need?

To close its survey, Caring.com asked an open-ended question about what additional help caregiving families needed. Many respondents said they sought better information about local caregiving options respite care solutions to support caregivers in emergencies (or when they just need a break), and emotional support and encouragement on their caregiver journey.

Not one asked for more technology.

So what’s a provider of aging technology solutions to do? I’m reminded of Steve Jobs’s comment that asking people what they want is fruitless, because they don’t know until you tell them.

Companies hoping to introduce technology solutions to caregivers should plan to spend just as much on marketing as they do on development.

Getting Technology Solutions Out There

Because families are not seeking technology solutions, they aren’t going to be typing “Internet-connected pillbox” or “senior tablet” into Google, so you can’t rely on simply buying keywords. You need to tell your story via advertising – whether you use new-fangled Internet content marketing tools or old standbys like radio spots. And once you’ve got their attention, you need a clear “call to action” so that they know how to get hold of your products.

The other option for innovative technology companies is to partner with a trusted care provider, such as an in-home care agency, to have their care workers introduce the solution to families that need it. While this option requires less cash upfront, you will need to share the revenue from any sales with the partner company.

Caring.com surveyed 2,098 U.S. adults online from July 8 – August 10, 2015 to ask about their caregiving experience, and what tools and services they used to help them. All survey-takers had searched online for senior care assistance, although exact search terms varied. Over 50% of survey respondents reported living together with their loved one in need of care, and just under 10% were helping loved ones living independently in their own homes. The rest had loved ones in a senior community (20%), or were caring for themselves (18%). More information about the survey findings can be found at caring.com.

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