Surging Number of U.S. Family Caregivers Turning to the Internet for Health Care Help

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A JUST RELEASED Pew Internet Health Tracking Survey of 3,014 adults in the United States interviewed by landline phone (1,808) and by cell phone (1,206) has found nearly 4-in-10 (39%) of U.S. adults provide unpaid care for a loved one, up from 30% in 2010.

Surprising to some, this is an activity which cuts across most demographic groups. Contrary to the conventional notion that caregiving is mostly a female activity, 40% of women and 37% of men report they are caregivers. People age 50-64 are most likely to be caregiving (44%) but not by a very wide margin over other age groups.

Compared to non-caregivers, caregivers are highly engaged in the pursuit of health information, support, care and advice, both online and offline.  Caregivers are more likely than other adults to:

  • Gather health information online, particularly about medical problems, treatments and drugs.
  • Gather health information offline, from clinicians, friends, family and others who share the same health conditions.
  • Go online specifically to try to figure out what condition they or someone else might have.
  • Consult online reviews about drugs and other treatments.
  • Track their own weight, diet, exercise routine or other health indicator.
  • Read online about someone else’s personal health experience.
  • Go online to find others with similar health concerns.

47% of U.S. adults surveyed say it is likely at some point in their lives they will be responsible for caring for an aging parent or another older family member. While people age 65 and older currently represented 12.4% of the U.S. population in 2000, they are expected to be 19% by 2030.

The Pew survey found that 75% of U.S. adults age 65-and-older are living with a chronic condition such as high blood pressure, diabetes or heart disease.

Other interesting data from the report includes:

  • 39% of caregivers manage medications for a loved one.
  • 7% use online or mobile tools for the above purpose.
  • 90% of caregivers own a cell phone. 37% of these have used it to look for health or medical information online.
  • Only 84% of non-caregivers own a cell phone and 27% have used their phones to look online for health information.
  • 86% of caregivers have internet access, compared to 78% of non-caregivers.
  • 84% of caregivers with internet access went online within the past year to research health topics. By comparison, 74% of non-caregivers with internet access did the same.
  • 72% of caregivers overall are online health seekers, compared to just 50% of non-caregivers.
  • 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.

No surprise, younger caregivers are more likely than older ones to report that the internet has been helpful to their ability to provide care and support, and  that the internet has been helpful in coping with related stress.

Caring for others’ information needs is a common activity among all internet users. 63% of caregivers say their last search was on behalf of someone else, compared with 47% of non-caregivers.

Caring for both children and adults 

36% of U.S. adults surveyed say they have provided unpaid care to an adult in the past year, up from 27% in 2010. This unpaid care may include help with personal needs or household chores, managing a person’s finances, arranging for outside services or visiting regularly to see how they are doing.

Two-thirds (66%) say they care for one adult, while one-third care for more than one adults.

8% of U.S. adults surveyed say they provided care to a child living with health challenges or disabilities in the past year, up from 5% in 2010. This could include care for ongoing medical conditions or serious short-term conditions, emotional or behavioral problems, or developmental problems, including mental retardation.

Conclusions

Among its conclusions, the report states that “these days, caregivers are health information specialists. They have the safety, comfort and even the life of a loved one in their hands. They are asked to perform a dizzying array of medical and personal tasks outside clinical settings and the stakes are very high.”

You can read more about the Pew Internet Tracking Survey and download the full report at the Pew Internet & American Life Project.

Editor’s Note: Unfrazzle CEO Rajiv Mehta was one of the peer reviewers of the Pew report along with Denise Brown, Lynn Feinberg, John Novack and MaryAnne Sterling.

 

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