Over 72 million US Boomers are aging, and they are one of the largest generations and the wealthiest - holding $3.2 trillion in direct spending power and more than 54% of household wealth. They will need caregivers, either hired professionals or family members. Yet there is a global caregiver shortage, which is only becoming worse. Caregivers are in high demand by not only the aging but also those with disabilities, children, veterans, and others who need additional support. New solutions that can scale up quickly will need to be created to address this growing need and help empower people when caregivers aren’t available.
According to AARP, 77% of adults 50 and older desire to stay in their homes as they age. And the American Health Care Association (AHCA) and National Center for Assisted Living (NCAL) report cites a steady decrease in workforce levels at nursing homes nationwide and in assisted living. That means that more and more people are searching for care support services from their homes.
Despite the generation as a whole being wealthy, not everyone has enough for the caregiving services they find themselves needing. Frequently the people who most need caregiving services can’t afford to pay for them. Caregiving often falls on the nation’s 53 million family caregivers who provide an estimated $470 billion worth of free care—often at great personal cost. This is a problem that begs for a solution. Pivotal Ventures' research cites long-term care and home-based care for those aging in place as a $390B industry.
The need for professional caregivers, caregiving skills, and tools will become greater with each year that passes. If something isn’t done to address this need, not only will people lack the care they need but it could put unnecessary health strain on caregivers and create more health problems than health benefits.
Technology can act as a resource for caregivers
Technology can help lighten the caregiving burden and empower those who require support. Certain groups of older adults and veterans qualify to receive government-funded devices that can host some of these tech tools like GetSetUp virtual programming. GetSetUp even offers programs to help device recipients get connected to their devices, trains them on how to use them, and offers enrichment classes on numerous technology and wellness classes to aid caregiving efforts.
There are significant shifts in caregiving as the Boomers enter this demographic, from ElliQ robots to online fitness with SilverSneakers and enrichment and social classes. Technology is helping empower active agers to manage some of their own care better. People can learn to monitor their health, manage their own care plans, and connect directly with medical professionals from their homes. This is a game changer not only for older people but also for those with disabilities, veterans, and those who need to monitor chronic illnesses.
There are a variety of tech tools that can be utilized in one’s home to provide some of the support caregivers might normally offer. If healthcare providers, veteran services, and communities supporting the aging encourage the use of these tools and help educate their members on how to effectively use them to improve one’s health, they can have life-altering impacts.
Smart Homes - Smart tech can help make people’s homes more age-friendly and offer people ways to help monitor loved ones from afar. Smart tech prices shouldn’t be a deterrent as they continue to become more affordable as this technology becomes more commonplace. The initial investment in tech can help people save money on bills, reduce travel time, and offer ways to monitor health and well-being but most importantly, they help prevent needless worry.
- Motion-detecting devices can allow you to turn lights on and off prior to entering rooms to help prevent falls.
- Smart thermostats and other smart electronics can be connected to apps on one's phone and help you reduce costs by turning off heating and air when you are not home. Anyone connected to the administration app can turn devices on and off from anywhere. This means even if you leave home without remembering to change the thermostat, you can still save on expenses and adjust these electronics even when no one is home.
- Voice assistants can remind people to take their medicine on time and not forget important medical appointments. They can help to turn on lights in rooms prior to entering them to prevent falls. Plus, they can be pre-set to assure regular routines and ease of communicating with loved ones. These devices can be particularly helpful to people who have mobility limitations, tremors, or other health issues that make it easier to request information from a voice assistant than to type into a phone or use a computer.
- Smart doorbells and cameras can let residents see who is at the door without opening it and help to monitor movements. Cameras can help assure people are up and moving, following through with regular routines, and safe when caregivers can’t be there.
- Smart locks can lock doors automatically when people leave, allow for select people to come and enter a home without keys, and provide a simple solution to forgotten keys, especially when multiple people have codes.
Health Tech - People can use tech now to monitor their health with gadgets like smartwatches and monitors and then speak directly to medical professionals through telehealth. These devices allow medical professionals, loved ones, and patients to monitor health around the clock. Some of these health tech options are even available for free or at a reduced cost in select Medicare Advantage plans.
- Smartwatches and monitors can help monitor a person’s health, including their heart rates, stress levels, sleep, falls, and more. These devices can alert wearers of increases in heart rates, falls, sleep cycles, and other shifts in health depending on the device. They can be programmed to send alerts to doctors, emergency services, and loved ones if there are complications.
- Telehealth can help allow for therapy and simple check-up visits or returns to be done from the living room without extra travel. This reduces costs for both patients and medical professionals. Plus, it allows medical professionals to attend to more patients in the same time frame than they could if they needed to relocate regularly. It can help patients feel more at ease and, when paired with monitoring devices, can give holistic pictures of a person’s health over a period of time.
Social Tech - More and more people are turning to virtual means to connect, make friends, learn new skills, and find a sense of purpose. Socialization is an essential part of health and wellness. Social isolation “increases the risk of premature death from every cause for every race,” according to a 2019 study. Many people remember to stay physically and mentally fit, but they often forget one of the key social determinants of health is a strong social community. Virtual opportunities to socialize through social tech can help create health equity for many people, especially those with limited mobility, special needs, and who have other mitigating circumstances.
Virtual learning and social interaction not only provide fun activities but can offer key resources for care management, health literacy, veteran’s resources, and health education to help assist in managing chronic diseases and adhering to both outpatient and long-term care plans.
- Online communities provide a sense of purpose and an outlet to share one’s passions with like-minded people. Communities like GetSetUp offer a safe space for active agers to learn, share, and create with peers.
- Virtual skill acquisition through virtual learning opportunities can help those being cared for learn skills that can make them more independent. They can learn how to use Uber to get to doctors' appointments or how to use Zoom to make video calls to help make caregiving check-ins easier.
- Virtual brain activities and physical fitness through online brain games with others or fitness classes in a virtual group can stimulate both mental and physical health. These classes can be tailored to include classes in seated positions for those recovering from surgeries who require specific outpatient activities. When these are live and interactive, they can be opportunities for socialization as well.
Best of all, many of these virtual caregiving classes and tools are available for free through health plans, area agencies on aging, governments, and other organizations. So people seeking some autonomy and to offset caregivers’ roles in their lives can gain a sense of independence and purpose through classes - often at no additional cost thanks to partners with organizations they are members of. Plus, there are a host of additional enrichment activities that caregivers and recreational directors can use as programming to help people stay active and engaged.
Health Tech and Digital Tools for Caregivers allow caregivers and those being cared for the opportunity to learn together to create empowering changes that lead to healthier and happier days ahead. Health plans that offer these resources help reduce costs, have opportunities to promote health education and educate members on their care plans. Ultimately impactful ongoing virtual care in an empowering environment can increase CMS star ratings and help to foster better relationships between healthcare providers, medical professionals, caregivers, and members.
Are you helping to provide the resources caregivers and those being cared for need in your community?
The GetSetUp platform is a flexible and powerful solution with the capability to deliver a full range of caregiving support programs, which is why it is a preferred partner for governments, health plans, and many diverse organizations. Programs are customized and designed to educate older adults and veterans on how to find, use and access caregiving resources.