Family Caregivers Look toward Technology for Information & Support

With burgeoning numbers of family members caring for older adults, many are seeking resources and support through various technologies. Pew Research Center published results of a national survey of more than 3,000 adults entitled “Family Caregivers Are Wired for Health,” which addressed how family caregivers are embracing online resources and other means to collect health information and seek resources for both loved ones in their care and for their own health and well-being. Additionally, the study compared those adults in caregiving roles to non-caregivers and found caregivers were more likely to participate in health-related activities including consulting online and with others about health issues and tracking their own health indicators such as activity levels, nutrition, and weight.

According to the report, 72 percent of all caregivers use the Internet to seek out health information compared to 50 percent of non-caregivers. Being in a higher income level and at a higher level of education increases the likelihood that individuals would use online resources to research health information. More than half of caregivers reported that online resources have both supported their ability to be an effective caregiver as well as provided support to help them cope with their caregiving responsibilities. Nearly 40 percent of caregivers manage medications of their loved ones, but few (18 percent) use an online tool to do so.

Family caregivers most often turn to health care professionals for health information (79 percent of caregivers). A significant number of caregivers also turn to family or friends (70 percent) or others who may be in similar situations (30 percent). Caregivers primarily reach health care professionals and family/friends via in-person or telephone conversations. Caregivers are significantly more likely than non-caregivers to seek out support and advice of others who share similar health concerns through online means.

Being a caregiver increases the likelihood an individual tracks their own health indicators (72 percent of caregivers compared to 63 percent of non-caregivers). Additionally, 31 percent of caregivers track health indicators for their loved ones. Half of caregivers tracking data for their loved ones noted that this has influenced both their overall approach to caregiving as well as their communication with health care professionals.

Results of this study bring up several questions for discussion. The implications for the growing use of online information and resources to promote health are considerable. How do we best educate consumers about what sources of online information are accurate? Is the use of online health resources taking the place of seeking out information from one’s personal physician? How might we measure the impact of the Internet as a source of health information and support on caregivers?

Source: Fox S, Duggan M, and Purcell K, Pew Internet. Family Caregivers Are Wired for Health. http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2013/Family-Caregivers.aspx. June 20.

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