• Mary Kate Connolly

Technology and Help for Families and the Aging

A while back, the Harvard Business School Alumni Association of New England brought together CEO's from leading healthcare companies and systems to discuss strategies for navigating up-coming healthcare challenges. Much of the increase in anticipated healthcare demands came from our rapidly aging senior population. Their resounding solution was to "cut costs, cut costs, cut costs.” What this means for seniors is greater "reliance on families to take a more active part in the healthcare continuum.” From coordinating care between family members, doctors, home care and private duty workers and community service providers to managing legal and financial matters as well the tasks of daily living, families should expect to shoulder an even more significant burden of responsibility.

According to that National Alliance for Caregiving and the AARP, in 2015 almost 44 million family members were acting as caregivers in the United States, providing care to an adult relative with limitations in daily activities. That number continues to increase dramatically as our population ages. According to the AARP, the estimated economic value of these unpaid contributions was approximately $450 billion in 2009, up from about $375 billion in 2007. With demographics and increasing costs pushing these numbers up, never before has coordinating care across the family been so critical.

However, this caregiving equation isn't adding up. Providing care is more difficult than ever before due to changing family dynamics and greater care responsibilities placed on family members. Today, families are often geographically dispersed across the country or around the world with many facing the even more difficult task of long-distance caregiving. Add in that the majority of caregivers are working full time and caregiving gets a little bit harder. A 2010 study by MetLife estimated that employees providing care for their elderly loved ones is already costing US businesses more than $13 billion per year. Like it or not, when family members are asked to do more, they will miss more work and add an even more significant burden on employers. It is as if we just introduced advanced algebra to the equation.

Unfortunately, up next is a healthy dose of trigonometry because we are not done yet. The out-of-pocket costs for caregiving are already staggering and growing. Many caregivers to persons age 50+ are spending more than 10 percent of their annual income on caregiving expenses, and long-distance caregivers spend even more. Factor in lost wages from missed work, inflation, decreased reimbursements and a general lack of savings across the US and the equation becomes advanced calculus.

We all know that providing seniors with home care and hospice is a cost-effective way to provide excellent care. Best of all, it's the solution most seniors and their family members prefer. But, with insurance costs rising and Medicare costs soaring, seniors and their families will be required to shoulder more of the costs themselves. The private duty market has flourished over recent years and will continue to grow as the population ages and life expectancies increase.

No one thinks that solving the problem of increasing healthcare costs is as easy as pushing the burden onto families. But, it's guaranteed that healthcare providers will rely more heavily on families. The only way we can ask families to do more is to provide them with better solutions.

Thankfully, technology is now at a place where we can use it to lower the burdens placed on families. From internet and mobile applications to communicate and share caregiving responsibilities to finding, storing and sharing information, technology is providing real solutions to families struggling with shouldering the increased burden of caregiving. Family members can virtually visit their parents to check in and see how mom's doing. Alerts can be sent to any or all members of the family if dad falls or has a medical emergency. Thanks to telehealth applications, healthcare professionals and families can check everything from grandma's heart rate, weight, and blood pressure or if she forgot to take her medicines--all without her having even to leave her home. Technology is efficiently and cost-effectively taking healthcare out of hospitals and doctors' offices and bringing it into the house.

While mom and dad might not be tech-savvy, most providing their care are. And, while it is hard to predict what ailments may strike your loved ones, the good news is that through technology you can now connect to resources and others who have already lived what you are about to face. Caregiving applications and participation will be vital to managing the care responsibility that will fall to so many.

We are just still growing in the everyday eldercare technology arena, but we must act fast as the burdens are a reality today. Increasing family responsibilities is the least expensive way to address soaring healthcare costs, but technology and society have to go a long way to making it easier for families to provide the needed help. The good news is that we are moving from the advanced math to math we can all do in our head. Increased family involvement and connecting for caring and aging, plus better technology will equal better lives for all.

Check out Gentreo today to get the help you and your family need to stay up-to-date on important aging legal issues and create and store all the essential documents you need.

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