Family Caregivers Embrace Mobile Technology to Aid Loved Ones

Caregivers are embracing new mobile-health apps that are steadily reaching the market to help them take care of loved ones, according to researchers.

Each year, caregivers provide an estimated $375 billion worth of uncompensated aid to family members, according to The National Alliance for Caregiving. Mobile applications such as those that monitor medication compliance and track locations using GPS could make this job easier, and caregivers are increasingly embracing these innovations.

The alliance and United HealthCare have released the results of a study called "e-Connected Family Caregiver: Bringing Caregiving into the 21st Century" that measured how receptive caregivers were to using emerging technologies.

The online study, based on a survey of 1,000 family caregivers polled from Nov. 9-22, found that 77 percent of respondents believed technology would save them time, 76 percent believed it would make their lives easier and 75 percent thought it would make the care recipient feel safer.

Technology for caregivers is essential to keeping seniors independent in their homes, according to Dr. Richard Migliori, UnitedHealth Group's executive vice president for business initiatives and clinical affairs.

"As the technology and health care industries increasingly use these kinds of tools to improve care in hospitals and doctors' offices, this survey is a reminder that these improvements could be equally helpful where care matters most-in the home," Migliori said in a statement.

The study was presented on Jan. 8 at the Consumer Electronics Show Silvers Summit in Las Vegas. The Silvers Summit focused on boomers, or those ages 43 and up.

"With this survey, we wanted to look at 'what's next' with technologies that can be brought to bear to help caregivers focus not only on the health of their loved one, but their own health as well," Gail Hunt, CEO and president of the National Alliance for Caregiving, said in a statement.

In the survey, 70 percent of respondents thought electronic medication reminders could help, and 69 percent of caregivers surveyed were open to using mobile applications to help them take care of loved ones.

Among the abundance of mobile-health applications are those that allow caregivers to monitor whether patients stay on track with their medication schedule-and to monitor their whereabouts. Nearly one in four adults ages 65 and older skip medication doses, according to AARP.

The ability to comply with a medication schedule could get more difficult as pharmaceuticals become more sophisticated, and technology could help caregivers and patients keep on track with prescriptions, Gregg Malkary, founder and managing director of Spyglass Consulting Group, told eWEEK.

One application for the iPhone and iPod Touch called iBioMed allows caregivers to keep a personal health record of the patient's medication schedule and diet, and share this information online with a physician. They can also enter information about allergies and various behaviors.

Another iPhone application, Medic8 Manager's Personal Caregiver, allows the caregiver to track medication intake, receive refill reminders and create a detailed history. Users can view information on dosage, duration and refill availability. The Personal version allows the user to track information for one patient, the Premium version provides three additional profiles and the Professional version allows the user to view five to 16 profiles.

In addition to medication-compliance, caregivers can also use GPS technology, like in the Android application Tell My Geo from mobile telecommunications provider Iconosys, to keep track of loved ones who may be suffering from Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia.

"GPS tracking solutions will be used to track the physical movements of Alzheimer's and dementia patients who may be residing in a home-based environment," Malkary said.

In Tell My Geo, Iconosys' proprietary secure-tethering technology functions as a virtual bracelet. Its geolocator could help caregivers pinpoint the location of an Alzheimer's patient or one with mental illness. Patients themselves can also click on a picture to make a call rather than typing a name.

The application costs $9.95 per month from Android Marketplace and requires two smartphones-one for the caregiver and one for the care recipient, according to Iconosys. The application comes with a decal to be placed on the back of the care recipient's phone. The caregiver can receive updates on the whereabouts of the loved one.