Drastic measures for drastic times — caregivers need mobile health apps

In a cancer diagnosis, family members have delicate and difficult moments when specialists cannot reach consensus on the results of a beloved family member. Distress, grief and concern are complicated by the necessities of caregiving.

Family caregivers can lose as many as 10 years of their lives and about $660,000 over a lifetime. 

This has worsened since the start of COVID-19 pandemic, where schools and child care centers are closed and many families have to take care of children, as well as sick and elder adults at home. The nature and amount of such responsibilities may change caregivers’ lives, modify their emotions, and make them feel frustrated, fearful and nervous, resulting in a decline of quality of life. 

Awareness of the significance of caregiving and the toll on millions of caregivers is an urgent issue for policy makers, organizations and entrepreneurs to invest more time, money and effort to find solutions. With the Biden administration in control, perhaps caregiving can be a priority. This should be done through technology.

While there are apps that offer the potential to reduce such stress. Yet only 40 percent of American caregivers with a smartphone use a caregiving-related app. 

At the recent Consumer Electronics Shows, several startups presented how mobile apps can reduce caregiving burnout by performing health monitoring at home and innovating tools to reduce isolation.

Mobile applications are reasonably priced, user-friendly and offer an information repository collected from various sources. Caregiving-related apps are designed to give users the platform to gain appropriate and trusted information, manage medication, improve communication with care providers and support groups, connect with counterparts, reserve transportation and manage the care-receivers’ health condition in an organized manner.

Such apps also incorporate valuable resources that address care for the caregivers. Despite the potential benefits of caregiving-related apps, only a limited number of caregivers adopt and use them.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) expects that the number of individuals who need care will be far from the numbers of those who offer that care in the near future.

Over the past year, COVID-19 has placed more people into this role, most of whom are women of color and Latinx

A recent Blue Cross Blue Shield study indicates that since the COVID-19 pandemic began last year, unpaid caregivers are experiencing 26 percent more stress, as well as mental and physical health concerns. More than 50 percent of caregivers reported high rates of loneliness and intense feelings of isolation. 

Time, money and effort to develop and promote caregiving-related apps to enhance both caregivers’ and care-receivers’ wellbeing can result in having several options to choose from to enhance their sense of control over a stressful situation. 

Caregiving-related apps need to be designed in a user-friendly, straightforward way to help caregivers locate services more easily, considering the caregivers’ time constraints. 

Because nearly 55 percent of caregivers are 50 years old and more, it is more important to design such apps in a simple and easy-to-operate way to ensure both younger and older adults can equally benefit from those apps.

We need to educate physicians, nurses, social workers and personal care aides on the available caregiving apps and ask them to spread the word so that they — and caregivers —  can incorporate them in their routines. 

Additionally, insurance providers and policy makers should implement policies to promote and cover the cost of caregiving-related apps. Reducing the price of apps or in-app purchases, raising research funds to develop more apps in this category, setting standards to require a minimum level of quality for those apps are examples of systematic changes needed now. 

Millions of caregivers need these resources now. It’s time.  

Fereshteh Ghahramani is an assistant professor of computing and digital media at at DePaul University College. She is a Public Voices fellow of The OpEd Project.

Tags App developers biden administration Caregivers Caregiving caregiving app CDC Consumer Electronic Show COVID-19 health apps Healthcare Joe Biden nurses Physicians Technology
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