About the SeniorAdvisor.com 2014 In-Home Innovation Scholarship: We started the scholarship program to bring awareness of the unique benefits and challenges of in-home caregiving for seniors to younger generations. The questions posed by the scholarship encouraged our nation’s future caregivers to present solutions for improving home care in the United States. College-aged students were required to answer one of the three essay topics below and provide a short bio as part of their scholarship application. Read the winning essays here.
How can the healthcare industry use technology to improve in-home care for American citizens?
Essay response by Michael Rangoonwala
A report by the U.S. Census Bureau states that by 2029, the baby boomer generation will be over 65 years old and comprise more than 20% of the U.S. population (Colby, & Ortman, 2014). This is significant as it will alter the workforce and the health industry. As people become older, there will be a need to replace their jobs. Additionally, as the numbers of elderly increase, the demand for in-home care will increase. The biggest challenge then is to have capacity for in-home care services for the elderly. In the face of such a challenge, what innovative idea could ease the pressure for care givers? An effective way to increase efforts to support caregivers is increase the utilization of technology for data entry and for social support.
It is clear that caregivers desire more support. Through a summer internship opportunity this year, I worked at the non-profit Greater Twin Cities United Way and came to understand this issue better. One of my projects was to analyze trends in the annual reports for around 40 nonprofits that offer programs for health and independence. One of the underlying trends was the need for supporting caregivers. When caregivers feel overwhelmed, they often will send their elder to a nursing home. This is problematic because staying in a nursing home is much more costly. Additionally, I found a trend that elders prefer independent living. In order to support the goal of independent living, more caregiver education and support needs to be offered and marketed. This will benefit both the elderly and their families. The question remains, how can this be accomplished in an innovative way?
I propose that a method rooted in technology is both an effective way at accomplishing the goal of supporting caregivers. Technology by definition reduces work and the amount of time to accomplish something. An obstacle however, found by a scholarly study on quality of life technologies, is that consumer’s willingness to pay for kitchen and personal care technologies is limited because of costs (Schulz, Beach, et al., 2014). This demonstrates the cost is a factor. Therefore, I propose that a different side of technology that is cost effective and overlooked be invested in: data entry. Data entry can be useful for crucial aspects such as tracking care, medication, and symptoms. The benefits of having data is that further research can be attained quantitatively. It will also improve the accuracy of care for the client. Hospitals have access to such systems, but not necessarily homes. Therefore, developing a system that has an attainable cost range for homes will aid in-home care for elderly.
Technology can also be used to help elders socially. When analyzing the trends in the health and independence programs I came about information that elderly are the fastest growing population to utilize technology for social means. This is because it is a communication medium that breaches the boundaries of geographical and physical limitations. Knowing this, it would be strategic to create technological outlets and tools specifically marketed for elderly in their homes. The Journal of the American Society on Aging has an article that expounds upon the joys of community. It states that “It is important to participate in some kind of intentional or structured community to help absorb the inevitable losses that come with age” (Atkins, p. 92, 2013). It then expounds that a better term instead of the goal of independence is interdependence. Caregivers should be educated on how to assist elderly to explore community online. This of course should be balanced with face to face interactions.
In conclusion, it is a reality that the demand for caregiver support will increase dramatically as the Baby Boomer generation retires. This makes it important to invest in technology that can support caregivers who seek to improve the lives of their elderly. Exploring technology that will bring data entry into homes to promote tracking and research, or technology that promotes interdependence online, will aid in the journey of improving healthcare for American citizens.
Michael is currently a senior undergraduate student at Bethel University in Minnesota.