Digital Technology for the Family Caregiver


October 20, 2022

Digital Technology for the Family Caregiver

Thanks to advances in medicine and public health, people are living longer than ever before. This means more and more family caregivers are responsible for managing the diverse needs of a loved one with chronic illness or frailty. When you are caring for an older adult, your most valuable asset is time. Your loved ones’ necessary medical and daily tasks, added to your own, can make the days stressful. 

How can family caregivers attempt to balance this added responsibility along with their own personal needs, work, parenting, and other demands in their lives? Apps on your computer, tablet, or phone can make caregiving easier and help you regain valuable time!

Digital technology offers practical solutions for caregivers seeking to solve a problem, learn new skills and get support. Where else but online can you find a peer group of caregivers to talk to when you need it at 1:00 in the morning? How convenient it is to post an electronic schedule that allows friends and family to sign up for tasks like bringing by a meal, driving your loved one to a doctor’s appointment, or giving you respite from caregiving.

This post offers an introduction to some of the tools currently available to help manage your caregiving responsibilities and other tasks. The world of technology changes quickly, so even more new devices, applications, and websites will be available in the future to help you manage care.

Who Uses Technology?

Computer and mobile technologies seem to be everywhere these days. Although one in five adults does not use the Internet, the majority of Americans do go online for business, for information, to stay in touch with friends, for entertainment. As baby boomers age, the use of technologies to manage their own care and the care of others will increase. This age group, unlike their parents, is more familiar with technology. They use it in their work and they use it at home to stay connected and manage household functions. Generally, it’s viewed more positively as a regular part of daily life. Increasingly, baby boomers will demand technology solutions to make their lives easier. And this extends to help with caregiving responsibilities as well. 

Below is an overview of the types of electronic related tools available to help caregivers take advantage of current digital resources.

Type of Tool Suggested Caregiver Use

Personal Computer (PC):
An electronic tool capable of performing calculations and storing and processing large amounts of information.

A script or set of rules designed to direct a computer to accomplish a task or a series of tasks.

Multiple uses may include word processing to keep care notes, a database for tracking information or access to the internet for email to communicate with your loved one. You can also participate in an online support group, research health information, share digital photo albums, and much more.
A mobile computer, larger than a mobile phone or personal digital assistant, integrated into a flat touch screen.

Designed for portable entertainment and communication (movies, music, e-mail and e-books), tablets share some of the same uses as computers, but they differ in significant ways. A touchscreen replaces the mouse and keyboard (though wireless keyboards can be purchased to use with the device), and they typically have no DVD drives. With a paid internet connection, however, viewing videos like the Caregiver College Series on FCA’s CAREGIVERdotORG YouTube channel is ideal. Currently, tablets do not run the most common software suites available since they are modeled on a smart-phone platform rather than a computer operating system.

Tablets are ideal for the caregiver seeking to browse the web, use email, take photos/videos to share online, download apps for medication management or appointment scheduling, or play games and stream movies with their care receiver.

Cell phone & Smartphone:
For voice and data communication. The information transmits over a network of satellites and antennas.

Data plans and Wi-Fi:
Access to the internet with a smartphone, tablet, or other mobile device requires a data plan for a fee or through a free Wi-Fi “hotspot”. Public hotspots may include cafes, airports, hotels and public areas in some towns.

Mobile phones are used just like a landline phone. The main difference is that the phone battery needs to be charged regularly and the phone will only work where it can access a signal from the phone company’s antenna. Besides making calls, a smartphone is capable of internet access for email, text messaging, social media, web browsing and movie/video streaming. Use a phone to take photos or a video, or download special applications (“apps”) used to access a service or perform a task and more. Apps are dependent on the phone and service plan. (See Types of Caregiver Applications below.)

The primary format for the compression of audio signals (music or voice) into very small computer files. 

MP3 player:
A digital player for MP3 audio files.

Use this tool to record your favorite music, e-book or narrated relaxation exercises to use whenever you have a moment to yourself. You can do the same for the person in your care.

GPS (global positioning device):
A system of satellites, computers, and receivers that is able to determine the location of a receiver on earth by calculating the time difference for signals from different satellites to reach the receiver.

Try using a GPS in the car for directions to a new doctor’s office visit or exercise class. A number of applications are now available for use as a tracking device for a loved one who is at risk for getting lost.
Game Console: 
A special type of computer used to play video games.
Wouldn’t it be nice to make exercise more enjoyable at home or practice yoga with a friend? All you need is a TV screen, a game console such as a Nintendo Wii, and accessories. (And, yes, the determination to include exercise as part of your weekly routine!)
Digital Cameras:
A camera that captures images electronically rather than on film. Most take both still pictures and short videos.
Take photos of mom to share with your siblings who live in another state or short videos of a grandchild’s latest achievements.
Web Cams:
Many newer computers and smart phones have cameras built in above the computer screen, but a small video camera can also be attached to most computers, if needed.
Use with a video-conferencing tool such as Skype or Google Video chat for face-to-face connection with a relative who lives far away.
Software & Applications (“app”):
These are programs you can download and access directly from a smart phone, tablet, MP3 player or other mobile device. Free and fee apps are available from the application marketplace on your mobile device or on the internet.

From banking to playing Scrabble with a friend across the country, an online resource or mobile application is available for just about everything, or so it seems. (See Phone apps and websites for the Family Caregiver.) 
Note: Not all apps work on all devices. Once you buy a device, you are limited to the mobile operating system or “platform” that runs on that device. The major systems currently available are Apple (vis the Apple App Store) and Android (via GooglePlay).

Source: By Family Caregiver Alliance and reviewed by Marie Jobling

We hope this information is helpful to you in the important work you do as a family caregiver.
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