Newtown, PA — “I managed to figure out how to sign out of Yahoo. Sign into Yahoo. Sign into my mom’s KaiserPermanente.org account. Get her test results from there. And, then, sign out, check her other mail that had a phone number for where we’re going. So, we’re all set, but it was a comedy of errors getting there.”
That’s a quote from an ethnography project on life and health that one of our collaborators is investing in. It represents the highs and lows of what digital tools really means to caregivers in 2013. They’re both a lifeline and an aggravation; an incredibly valued tool that never quite works the way they wish it would.
More and more of us are caring for a loved one with a serious health issue. Pew Research recently reported that almost 40% of Americans are acting as caregivers, up from 30% in 2010. For most, it’s a second set or third set of commitments that layer on top of jobs and / or parenting. Although caring for a loved one is an activity that cuts across most demographic groups, it is especially prevalent among adults ages 30 to 64, a group traditionally still in the workforce.
The face of caregiving is changing, too. The Alzheimer’s Association found that in some categories more and more caregivers are men. In fact, almost 40% of people who are taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are men, up from 19% just 15 years ago.
There are differences in how men and women take on those new responsibilities For example, as caregivers, men are more likely to busy themselves with the daily details of what has to get done. They’re less multi-taskers and more problem solvers. But both genders are turning to digital tools in greater and greater numbers to help them help their loved ones.
How Caregivers Use Digital Tools
Overall, caregivers are more highly engaged in the pursuit of health information and support, both online and offline, than non-caregivers.
Fully 86% of caregivers have internet access, compared with 78% of non-caregivers. And 84% of caregivers with internet access (vs. 64% of non-caregivers with internet access) say they went online within the past year to research health topics such as medical procedures, health insurance, and drug safety.
Interestingly, almost all those searches – 79% – started at a search engine (Google, Bing, or Yahoo). Only 14% started at a site that specializes in health information, such as WebMD.
Caregivers are more likely than other adults to read someone else’s health story, gather health information online, participate in online social activities related to health, go online for a diagnosis, use online drug reviews, and even track their own health indicators.
Caregivers believe the information and experiences they find online are valuable:
- 59% of caregivers with internet access say that online resources have been helpful to their ability to provide care and support for the person in their care.
- 52% of caregivers with internet access say that online resources have been helpful to their ability to cope with the stress of being a caregiver.
With so many competing priorities in their lives, it may not be a surprise that caregivers are heavy adopters of new digital tools.
- 87%of caregivers in the United States own a cell phone (over half of those are smartphones)
- Of those cell phone owners, 37% say they have used their phone to look for health or medical information online
- 18% of caregivers who manage medications for their loved one use online or mobile tools, such as websites or apps, to do so
Beyond supporting their loved ones, Boomer caregivers particularly also use digital tools to support themselves. A recent study by Comscore found that Boomers who are caring for their aging parents rely on sites like Facebook more than their their peers. They use social media for 150 minutes per month. And view 70% more pages than the average internet user.
They turn to the sites for three key reasons:
- Validate and reinforce their feelings
- Simplify and customize their lives
- Get information and advice
Digital Seniors: Challenging Assumptions About 65+
It’s important to note that our caregivers aren’t the only ones navigating online health. In fact, even when we focus in on just one historically low-adopting demographic – Americans who are 65+ – we see a huge uplift in the adoption of digital tools. As of April 2012, 53% of American adults ages 65 and older were using the internet or email. Of that number, a full 70% were using those digital tools daily.
They’re also more likely to own a cell phone than you might expect. 69% of adults ages 65 and older report that they have a mobile phone, up from 57% in May 2010. Among those currently ages 76 and older, 56% report owning a cell phone, up from 47% of this generation in 2010.
Even social adoption is up. According to the same study, one third (34%) of internet users ages 65 and older use social networking sites such as Facebook, and 18% do so on a typical day.
Our opportunity for both caregivers and older health navigators is to help simplify and connect the system so it actually improves their ability to care for a loved one and take care of themselves. For a little inspiration, check out how one powerful brand – AARP – is trying to do just that.