The Best Tech for Caregivers
July 13, 2016 | Home and Family
As the Baby Boomer generation moves towards its elder years, more and more Americans are becoming caregivers of their aging loved ones. According to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2015 study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, some 40 million Americans provided unpaid care to an adult during that year. Those responsibilities can range from helping with household chores to administering medication or attending and negotiating medical treatment with doctors.
Ashley Huntsberry Lett, the editor in chief of AgingCare.com, says more people are using new technologies to care for their loved ones. “On our forums people share lots of methods they’ve come up with to address different aspects of caregiving,” she says. Huntsberry says that while some people are still using pen and paper, medicine chart templates and shared calendars to organize themselves, others are using applications on computers, smartphones and tablets to store and share medical records as well as to set up medication alerts and coordinate caregiving duties with others. “Some people use the latest apps and devices, and others find some really creative solutions of their own. Some are almost MacGyver-like in their solutions,” she reports.
To start with, there any number of apps that can help track medication, share medical documents and allow caregivers to share schedules and responsibilities. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists some that are available, and Huntsberry advises people to look for those that will best suit an individual’s needs and capacity, including some of the following:
Carezone: Allows you to create a medication schedule, upload important documents and create to-do lists, which can be assigned to various caregivers. Carezone has a journal function to help you track day-to-day issues as well as a calendar and alert system to remind caregivers and family members of appointments, caregiving duties and medication schedules.
Apple iOS and Android / Free for basic, fees for premium services
MyMedical: This app works only with Apple devices; but in addition to tracking medication schedules and medical records, it can also set alerts in Apple’s Calendar service in addition to the alerts available from the app itself. MyMedical also lets you store and email medical records and tests, and it can provide information about medication, their possible side effects and interactions.
Apple iOS / $19.99 (free trial period)
iBlueButton: BlueButton is a federal initiative that is available to veterans and Medicare patients. It stores medical records, lab tests and x-rays and can electronically send records to medical professionals. It can also be used to store information about medications you may be taking, allergies, other medical conditions and emergency contacts.
Apple iOS and Android / $14.99
Track My Medical Records: This does what it sounds like and allows you to track medical records and access them on a website or mobile device. You can track immunizations, medication and allergies and also chronicle blood pressure, blood sugar levels and other stats.
Medical Alert Systems: There are medical alert apps for smartphones as well as the more traditional stand-alone devices and services that can help in an emergency. These technologies can be most useful if a loved one is more independent or spends a lot of time alone. These services can vary greatly in what they offer and in cost. They can be as simple as an app on a phone that calls 911 or a family member in case of emergency; or there are more robust systems that include in-home motion monitors and tracking devices that can detect if someone has fallen or has experienced a major health event and will activate an emergency response.
GPS Trackers: For those who might need to track their loved one in the case of an emergency, there are smartphone apps available that can be linked to a GPS notification system. For those caring for a loved one who suffers from dementia, there are GPS tracking systems that can be worn by a loved one and can be used to auto-alert family members and/or authorities if the individual wanders beyond a certain designated area.
Video Monitoring/2-Way Remote Communication: If a caregiver needs to monitor a loved one while out of the room, there are specialized devices that can help. Also, many caregivers have used more common technologies like baby monitoring systems or webcams. Huntsberry Lett cautions the use of video or recording should be discussed in full because it can be a sensitive topic or a legal issue requiring consent of all parties.
As with many technologies, a primary concern will be how well it works for you and your loved one. You’ll likely need to research the different options to see which might suit your needs and comfort level. Huntsberry Lett says any technology can be a help or a hindrance. “No matter how advanced the technology is, if you’re struggling to use it, it’s not going to be effective—and it’s likely only going to add stress to an already stressful situation,” she cautions.
Additionally, she says, the use of any of these services or technologies should be discussed fully between the caregiver and the loved one being looked after as part of creating a thoughtful plan for care. “There is almost nothing more important than having a deep discussion about wants and needs around health and medical issues before caregiving begins,” Huntsberry Lett says. She adds that it’s vital to develop a care plan to help families discuss many of the issues that might come up around caregiving, including financial responsibilities, schedules and responsibilities caregivers will take on and the medical and care preferences of the person needing care.
“Caregivers generally come to these situations trying their best to help,” says Huntsberry Lett. “Technology can certainly help in so many ways, but nothing beats planning and open communication to create a really positive environment for everyone.”