One in four American adults is caring for an elderly or sick family member as more people develop chronic diseases and the population as a whole becomes older, new research finds.
The study was conducted by the Pew Research Center and the California HealthCare Foundation, and found that the number of caregivers rose between 2010 and 2013.
Researchers surveyed 3,014 adults around the US, finding the majority of caregivers ranged in age between 30 and 64 years.
Susannah Fox, associate director of the Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Life project and the study’s lead author, said:
“More health care is happening at home. 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.”
Caregivers take part in the pursuit of health information, care, support, and advice, both online and offline, as well as completing health-related activities more frequently than non-caregivers.
The authors believe that the slow US economy could be why family members are becoming caregivers at an increased rate. With fewer savings, many people are not able to afford professional help.
Caregivers are using every resource available to obtain the information and support they need to care for their family members.
Among caregivers, 39% took charge of medications for a loved one, like checking to make sure pills are taken at the right time or refilling prescriptions. Approximately 7% of caregivers use online or mobile tools like apps or websites to do so.
Eighty-seven percent of caregivers own a cell phone and 37% of those say they used their cell to search for medical or health information online. This is much higher than the rate of mobile health searches among non-caregivers; 84% of non-caregivers have a cell phone and 27% have used their phone to search for online health information.
When participants of the survey were asked about the influence of the Internet:
- 56% of caregivers with Internet access said that online resources were helpful with providing care and support for their care-person.
- 52% of caregivers with Internet access said that online resources have been helpful with their ability to cope with the stress of being a caregiver.
Over half of adults who were surveyed in a previous Pew Research Study said they expected to care for an elderly family member or parent at some point.
The authors say they believe the number of caregivers will continue to increase.
A study conducted in 2011 and published in BMJ revealed that family caregivers also need support while caring for sick individuals, because they frequently witness and share much of the patient’s experience.
Written by Kelly Fitzgerald