Pew Survey Tech Savvy Caregivers
June 20, 2013

Pew Survey Finds At-Home Caregivers Are Increasingly Tech Savvy

Michael Harper for — Your Universe Online

Though there are a variety of reasons to explain the phenomenon, Americans are living longer than they once did. Coupled with the economic downturn and high medical costs, this has left an increasing number of aging Americans in the care of families or a loved ones. A new survey from the Pew Research Center´s Internet and American Life Project found that four out of ten American adults are providing care for an aging adult or a child with significant health needs.

Though this growing number of home-based caregivers comes from different backgrounds and demographics, the majority of them can be found working in the garages, offices and shops that comprise the American workforce. They´re also relatively young, between the ages of 30 and 64, placing many of them in the age of technophiles, a subgroup which is also growing as technology becomes more pervasive.

According to the new study, these caregivers are taking to the Internet and using online tools to help them deliver the best care they can to their loved ones. These caregivers are also more likely to join a community of adults with similar responsibilities and rely on the Internet to hold these groups together and deliver the information they need.

"More health care is happening at home," said Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Research Center's Internet and American Life project in an interview with Reuters.

"As more people are able to be saved by medical advances, their lives are being extended, but they're also being sent home medically fragile. It's caregivers who are the first line of defense."

A previous Pew study even found that 47 percent of American adults believe it's likely they'll one day have to care for an aging relative. Luckily for them they have the power of the Internet to help them learn as they go. The Pew study surveyed over three thousand adults aged 18 and up to ask them about their health activities and how they deliver care to their loved ones. In all areas, at-home caregivers were more active in health related activities than their peers who do not have a person with medical issues in their care. Furthermore the results of this study paint a picture of a tight-knit online community which provides mutual support to its members as they nurse their loved ones.

For instance, 54 percent of non-caregiving Americans consulted family or friends when they needed information, care or support. Though significant, this is far less than the 70 percent of caregivers who relied on their inner circle for the same assistance. Another 30 percent looked to others who were experiencing the same health concerns as them for help and support.

Just as it has been seen elsewhere for many years, communities can thrive on the Internet and be a helpful source of information, and Pew´s study confirms this.

While 28 percent of non-caregivers went online for a diagnosis before seeing a doctor, 46 percent of caregivers did the same. Moreover, 52 percent of caregivers were likely to participate in online activities relating to health, while only 33 percent of non-caregivers did the same.

In an interview with GigaOm, Fox claims that while this data reveals an active and tech savvy community of caregivers, the health industry could do more to serve them.

“Caregivers seem to be the kind of kid who sits in the front row of every class. They are voracious information consumers — they consume it like it's a competitive sport," said Fox.

“This is a big, untapped market in terms of caregivers who are very wired and bristling with technology. They outdo everyone else when it comes to consumption but they're not yet using apps for this really key aspect of health care, which is medication management."