Caregiver Crunch? No Problem, This Is How Tech-Savvy Millennials Will Care For Aging Baby Boomers

&l;p&g;&l;img class=&q;size-full wp-image-213&q; src=&q;; alt=&q;&q; data-height=&q;668&q; data-width=&q;1000&q;&g; Millennials will care for Baby Boomers the same way they live today&a;mdash;high-tech &a;amp; on-demand.

Finding ways to care for the growing number of older adults who need assistance is one of the most complex challenges facing our aging society. As I wrote in my last post here on &l;a href=&q;;&g;Forbes&l;/a&g;, young Gen Xers and Millennials will be the first to experience the caregiver crunch. Certain features of these cohorts&a;mdash;high student loan debt, a tendency to move away from their hometowns and not come back, and simply being born in fewer numbers&a;mdash;will create unique pressures on them as they find themselves taking care of their aging parents.

But wait &a;ndash; there is reason for optimism. The Baby Boomers&a;rsquo; children may be better equipped to take the mantle of caregiving than their predecessors ever were. How so? They&a;mdash;and to some extent, their older Boomer parents, too&a;mdash;have a whole suite of new technologies in their hands, and they know how to use them. These tools, still relatively nascent, can decrease the friction of aging and providing care, increase connectivity within the home, and make the atomic tasks of care easier, convenient and lessen the coming caregiver crunch.

Some of the products and services I&a;rsquo;m about to describe are ones that many of us already use regularly, even daily. In fact, many of these technologies are at the very heart of the oft-criticized lifestyles of today&a;rsquo;s young digerati, the Millennials. But these technologies, services and apps may not be something we immediately associate with things like &a;ldquo;caregiving&a;rdquo; or &a;ldquo;successful aging.&a;rdquo; We simply use them to make our daily lives easier. The odds are, though, that Millennials will provide care in the same way that they live today&a;mdash;high-tech and on-demand.

Take ridesharing services like &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Uber&l;/a&g; and &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Lyft&l;/a&g;. Transportation is the second-largest cost one faces in retirement and can also be one of the biggest frictions. It is also one of the most common, time-consuming, and onerous tasks that unpaid caregivers have to perform, and typically one that they do unassisted. For those willing to trust them and who know how to adroitly use them, ride-hailing services can help fill some of the gaps in transportation for an older adult who can no longer drive&a;mdash;so the adult child doesn&a;rsquo;t have to.

Other services under the umbrella of the sharing economy like &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Taskrabbit&l;/a&g;&a;nbsp;or &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Hello Alfred&l;/a&g; (for home maintenance and other household tasks) and &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Instacart&l;/a&g; (for grocery shopping and delivery) can serve to fill other instrumental tasks that are commonly done by unpaid caregivers. We tend to associate services like these with ease, convenience, even laziness. But for a caregiver who finds time to be at a major premium, they could be a lifesaver. And any somewhat tech-savvy, independent older adult can also use them just as well. My &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;MIT AgeLab&l;/a&g; colleagues produced a fun video showing what life on demand might look like for a tech-enabled older adult.

Other kinds of technologies can help with staying connected to an aging parent who lives at a distance. A recent &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;advertisement&l;/a&g; for Amazon&a;rsquo;s Echo Spot shows an older woman coming into a dark, quiet home, settling into a chair, and having her night brightened by a video call via Echo from her loving family.

For care recipients who have greater needs and vulnerabilities, a home monitoring system provides peace of mind and a way to catch emergencies before they turn into crises. Some systems involve cameras that see into the home; others utilize sensors to catch a fall or warning signs of one and transmit that information to a care provider.

Robots used to be the &l;em&g;things&l;/em&g; of science fiction creepiness, but soon they will be central to providing care. Today &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;telepresence robots&l;/a&g; can give a distant caregiver physical freedom of movement and presence in a recipient&a;rsquo;s home. One such robot, &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;VGo&l;/a&g;&a;nbsp;across the floors of the MIT AgeLab. These sleek plastic beanstalks&a;mdash;what I sometimes call &l;em&g;Skype-on-wheels&l;/em&g;&a;mdash;are found in office and critical care settings, but will soon play a significant role in the delivery of care, both socially and instrumentally.


And on the very frontier (or fringe, depending on your perspective) of caregiving technology is an array of Internet-of-Things or IoT products that can track every kind of behavior, from medication adherence, to sleep, to exercise, to quality of diet, which not only keep a caregiver or medical provider constantly in the know but can also provide behavioral nudges to the care recipient to encourage healthy habits. This extreme point of technological caregiving raises a thorny and ultimately philosophical question: how much is too much? When does Mom start to feel oppressed by all the monitoring and beeping and buzzing?

The push-and-pull of responsibility, dependency, autonomy, and privacy is always a part of caregiving&a;mdash;but adding technology to the mix may make that negotiation more complicated. A light-hearted, satirical video imagines a rebellion by a dad who has been swamped with annoying &a;ldquo;smart&a;rdquo; products&a;mdash;installed in his home, of course, by his well-intentioned children. In its cheeky way, it shows both the problems and limits of technology as a means of care.

Caring for mom and dad? &l;em&g;Yep, there is an app for that&l;/em&g;. For all the popular criticism of Millennials always being on their phones, their nimble fingers may be the very means many aging Boomers will receive care. &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;Honor&l;/a&g;, as just one example, is an app that does the deceptively simple job of matching households with a professional, paid caregiver who properly suits them. Technology can fill many gaps in life, but it can never fully substitute for the physical presence of a skilled human being.

I have no doubt that tech of all kinds will play an ever-growing role in how we provide and receive care. The challenges posed by demographic change happen to be rising just as we come into possession of new tools and services that will make navigating the complexity of aging much easier. That intersection is at the heart of the burgeoning &l;a href=&q;; target=&q;_blank&q;&g;longevity economy&l;/a&g; that will blend technologies and services into powerful tools that will extend and improve the capacity families to care for loved ones. Ironically, the creative use of the very tools that enable the oft criticized lifestyles of today&a;rsquo;s young digerati, the Millennials, may be what transforms the coming caregiver crunch into how the Baby Boomers, and ultimately all of us, will live longer, better.&l;/p&g;

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