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Baby Boomer Caregiver Use of Technologies and Social Media Increasing

Yesterday, January 10th, two studies were released that examined the role of technology and family caregiving. The studies, “Home Tweet Home: The Age Lesson Boomer Social Media Study” (Age Lessons) and “e-Connected Family Caregivers: Bringing Caregiving into the 21st Century” (UnitedHealthcare, National Alliance for Caregiving) looked at how caregivers look at social media and caregiver receptivity to technologies.

“Home Tweet Home…” used a panel of identified baby boomer caregivers who had visited at least one caregiver sites to determine how they used their time on the web. While personal interviews found that caregivers are using the web to find health information and community resources, they are also using a wide variety of sites to manage finances, coordinate care, make appointments and arrange support services and monitor medications for their parents, other relatives and friends. The top site for these baby boomer caregivers is Facebook which many noted as an efficient way to communicate with family and friends around caregiving issues. Four shopping sites were among the top ten indicating online shopping and shipping directly to home as a useful function for caregivers. Other social networking sites such as Linkedin.com, MyLife.com and Twitter.com were also used for baby boomer caregivers – most often employed and time starved – to stay in touch with professionals and friends. Thirty percentage listed Yelp.com as a top site for referencing feedback from other users of goods and services in local communities.

In the “e-Connected Family Caregivers…” survey, caregivers had the greatest receptivity to personal health records, caregiving coordination systems, medication support systems, caregiver training simulations, caregiving decision support programs. Caregivers under 50 and early adopters are most likely to be receptive to new technologies but issues of cost, learning curves on using new technologies and privacy issues were seen as potential barriers to usage across all caregivers surveyed. Of those surveyed, 70% reported having used the Internet for caregiving related information or support, 47% used an electronic organizer or calendar in some way related to caregiving; 11% participated in a blog or online forum and 41 % used some other technology device that assisted with caregiving.

When looking at what influences increase the likelihood of trying technologies, 88% indicated that a health professional who is involved with you or their relative was most important, followed by simple how-to instructions and installation of the technology (80%), warranties of three years that insures functions without problems (78%), a seal of approval from a national caregiving organization (66%) or a recommendation by a caregiver who wrote about it in an online caregiver forum (62%). The most trusted sources of information indicated were medical websites like WebMD or the MayoClinic.com (77%), government websites like Medicare or the Administration on Aging (67%), consumer review websites (66%), caregiving magazines or websites (57%).

As baby boomers age, the rate of usage of technologies to manage their own care and the care of others is likely to increase. More medical technologies are moving into the home and with it, greater independence for individuals. This age cohort, unlike their parents, are more adept at using technology, use it currently in their work and home to stay connected, manage household functions and view it as a more positively as an integral part of their daily lives. This is likely to mean that baby boomers will demand technology solutions to make their lives easier and increase independence.

For those who are developing technologies, it is important to take heed that the solutions solve practical caregiving problems and those solutions should be simple to install, maintain and use over the long run. For professionals in the field, it is imperative to acknowledge that many caregivers are savvy users of technology and that the use of technologies is increasing. This may mean getting more acquainted with technologies that support caregivers and using that knowledge to connect caregivers with the possibilities for online support, care coordination and practical daily management issues as part of care planning. And for caregivers, try technologies that are currently available that can supply peer support, care coordination, shopping, financial management, information and training and recreation.

Family Caregiver Alliance was an early adopter of technologies to support family caregivers with making available information and online support since 1996 and launching our client-only support site, Link2Care in 1999. Thousands of caregivers participate in our online support groups, telephone trainings and webinars on consumer issues each year. Stay tuned as we travel this technology road together.

Full study reports or more information can be found:

Home Tweet Home: The Age Lessons Boomer Social Media Study

e-Connected Family Caregiver: Bringing Caregiving into the 21st Century
www.caregiving.org or http://unitedhealthgroup.com/main/Newsroom.aspx