Telehealth for older adults should include family caregivers, study says

Family caregivers for older adults were left out of the conversation when the switch to telehealth was made in the beginning of the pandemic, but many older patients need their help to navigate telehealth services, a Jan. 20 study published in the Annals of Family Medicine reported.

Researchers used the Ann Arbor-based University of Michigan Institute for Clinical and Health Research's online research platform to recruit 90 adult family caregivers between May 1 and June 30, 2020.

The caregivers filled out a survey to cite telehealth's benefits and limitations for their older relatives. 

Participants reported being satisfied with telehealth's increased access to care, but said older patients needed help utilizing technology to access telehealth services. 

Relatives also reported concerns over telehealth's ability to properly address an older patient's specific needs.

"For example, in many cases, getting into the visit requires multiple clicks, knowing how to use a computer, turning on the microphone, turning on the speakers, being able to hear," said Minakshi Raj, PhD, lead author and professor of kinesiology and community health at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. "Some of the caregivers described their older relative's hearing difficulties, and so it just became more frustrating because they couldn't hear what the doctor was saying through the computer."

Dr. Raj suggested that telehealth for older people would benefit from including caregivers as they can ensure questions, concerns and care provided are properly assessed.

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