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The Institute for the Future: Improving the Future of Caregiving

By focusing on the power of foresight, Institute for the Future (IFTF) has created a system of groundbreaking tools and techniques for providing the most accurate predictive information on society’s most pressing issues. One such issue is that of a rapidly aging society — and with it, a severe lack of caregivers.

Richard Adler, a distinguished fellow at the IFTF, sees the country’s aging population as an economic challenge and an exciting opportunity for innovation. Whether it means creating computer classes for seniors or enabling the aging population to have online discussions about vital issues, Adler’s goal is to utilize technology to combat the challenges of an aging society.

“The only way we see the future is by aging into it,” said Adler in a 2014 IFTF video discussing caregiving and technology. Looking to 2025, the institute predicts there will be a global population of over 1.2 billion people over the age of 60 — numbers Adler describes as both unprecedented and unsustainable.

“These numbers clearly suggest a very stark future in which many traditional health institutions can be overwhelmed by a gap between capacity and escalating demand,” he said.

But with such a challenge comes potential: “These numbers, daunting as they are, conceal a wave of innovation and new adaptations by the entire population that have a real potential to transform the human experience of aging — how we pursue health, wellbeing, and even joy in our lives.”

Describing caregiving as “ripe” for innovation, Adler claims current technologies play only a very minor role in supporting caregiving: “It just seems logical that technology should be playing a useful role in supporting caregivers and caregiving.”

What will caregiving look like in 2031?

“Caregiving 2031 has been a valuable tool for us to spark community conversations.  It has helped community members envision a future for caregiving that is different from current reality and consider new ideas about how to come together around this important issue. – Phylene Wiggins, Director of Santa Barbara Foundation’s Community Caregiving Initiative

The IFTF recently created an eye-opening report on the future of caregiving. Entitled “Caregiving 2031,” the report asks two key questions: “In 2031, who will you care for? And who will care for you?”

According to the report, which came out in 2016, the number of potential caregivers for every person in the U.S. needing care will drop from seven to four by the year 2030.

To draw awareness to the need for innovation in the field of caregiving, the report studies three alternative scenarios for a better future of caregiving: “These scenarios aren’t intended to predict the future,” the video says, “but rather to provoke serious thought about new policies, new technologies and new financial arrangements to support unpaid and paid caregivers alike.”

“Each of the scenarios describes a different strategy designed to help avert a future crisis in caregiving — because without action, we won’t take the chance to both rationalize both how we pay for and support caregivers. Help build a future of caregiving defined not by demographics, but by hope and opportunity.”

The Three Scenarios
  1. Neighbors Care

Almost half of Americans are unmarried and without children. Without a traditional family, who will care for them when it’s needed? This scenario describes a grown man whose life never led to marriage or children. When faced with an illness requiring a high level of care, he must explore less traditional options of receiving care.

Asking the question “What if a generation in which childlessness is normal redefines what ‘family’ caregiving means?,” the scenario explores a future in which societies have explored new, less conventional methods of caregiving, including ideas such as a “care bank” and “care gigs.” Watch the video here.

  1. Angels in the Floorboards

Asking the question “What if technology could alleviate some of the burdens of caregivers and improve the quality of caregiving?,” this scenario explores the vast world of opportunities new technologies may bring to alleviate burdens for both caregivers and care recipients.

Examples include a digital assistant that schedules and tracks medical appointments, pays bills and plans meals, as well as an in-home telepresence robot that allows the care recipient to easily video call her friends and family. Watch the video here.

  1. The CARER Act

In 2016, almost half (46 percent) of caregivers in America were performing medical and nursing tasks with little to no training or support. Asking the question “What if caregiving was integrated into the formal health care system, with recognition, training and support?,” this scenario looks at a college student tasked with caring for his grandfather post-stroke.

“What if caregiving was integrated into the formal health care system, with recognition, training and support?”

Through the hypothetical “CARER Act,” a legislative bill enabling increased caregiver support, he is able to receive official caregiver training from health care experts, as well as a stipend for his time spent providing care. Watch the video here.

Atlas of Caregiving: Discovering solutions for a better tomorrow

Atlas of Caregiving founder Rajiv Mehta, also featured in Adler’s IFTF video, emphasized the need for more personal, firsthand research in order to better understand caregivers moving forward.

“The common perception of what caregiving involves is often quite at odds with the reality,” he said. “If we’re to understand caregiving well and develop the tools and technologies… we’re going to have to go into people’s homes and observe them deeply, and really pay attention with our eyes, ears and hearts wide open.”

In the past three years, Atlas of Caregiving has done just that. In a 2015 pilot study, Atlas studied 14 different caregivers in their homes to learn more about the day-to-day challenges of caregiving. Caregivers, ranging in age from 30 to 73, cared for patients ranging from age three to 101 with ailments ranging from cancer and Alzheimer’s to diabetes and cystic fibrosis.

Through activity logs, interviews, monitors, and sensors, Atlas was able to see a caregiver’s typical day as they see it, and as a result, receive a truly comprehensive look at family caregivers’ lives.

Not only did the study provide valuable data and insights, but it also served as a first step in discovering practical solutions for caregivers and their networks.

One such discovery? While technology will likely play a huge role in the future of caregiving, some of the most effective caregiving solutions may not be high tech at all. Each research participant was tasked with drawing a simple diagram of their entire caregiving network, complete with every person they come in contact with on a typical day: their children, spouse, medical professionals, pets, friends, community members, social workers, and of course, the care recipient themselves.

To be able to visualize how each of these different people plays a role in a given caregiving situation allows the caregiver to see whose efforts may need to be amplified, as well as which may be unnecessary or redundant. The greatest thing about the tool is that with a simple paper and pencil, an entire diagram can be created anywhere at anytime, offering pragmatic, easy-to-see solutions without requiring a clinic, technology or intense training.

This exercise was the genesis of Atlas’ CareMaps, which have since become a highly-utilized and valuable tool for caregivers across the nation to better understand their own caregiving situation while providing evidence for much-needed help.

The solution has proven so effective that AARP has recently funded a series of CareMap Workshops across the country.

Atlas looks forward to working with Richard Adler and the Institute for the Future to continue finding new ways to improve the caregiving experience. Read more about Atlas’ groundbreaking research, pilot study and CareMaps here.

Ellen Barnes assisted in the writing of this post.

Except where noted, this work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.