Publication of the Week - 11/10/2023


Comparing Use Patterns and Acceptability of Mobile Digital Devices Between Care Recipients and Caregivers


Miaolung Shih,1 Wei-Chen (Miso) Lee, Huey-Ming Tzeng,3 Hani Serag,4 and Mukaila Raji5,6




Background: The use of smartphones and other digital devices (such as tablets and smartwatches) is important for the aging population to enhance and optimize communications with caregivers, families, friends, and providers. It also provides a platform for app-based activities to promote mental, physical, spiritual, and social well-being and virtual social connectedness. We, therefore, examined types of digital devices and categories of smartphone functions used by caregivers and care recipients in comparison to those without any caregiving roles.

Method: The project team has developed a smartphone app based on Buddhist meditative practice principles for the enhancement of the physical, mental, cognitive, and emotional well-being of older adults and their caregivers and tested it in Galveston, Houston, and Dallas, TX. The study comprised a convenient sample of older adults, including members or volunteers of the International Buddhist Progress Society-Dallas (IBPS Dallas) and the University of Texas Medical Branch Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (UTMB OLLI). The survey focused on people who were 55 years and older (n = 219), with 177 valid responses (~80.8%) meeting the study's inclusion criteria. The survey collected data on (1) caregiving role, (2) demographic characteristics and caregiving concerns, and (3) types of devices, functions, and utilization. Descriptive analysis and logistic regression were used to describe and compare patterns of smartphone function/use by the different groups, i.e., caregivers, care recipients, and neither.

Results: All of our survey respondents were 55 years and older, and among them, 17.5% were caregivers, 9.1% were care recipients, and 73.4% did not have any role. The majority of the caregivers were females (80.6%), and the average age of their care recipients was 66 years. The care recipients in our sample reported that the average age of their caregiver is only 55 years. Around three-fourths of caregivers reported that they have an app related to health or they are willing to use a health-related app, 32% of them use smart home appliances, whereas only 16% of people who are neither caregivers nor care recipients use such apps. Approximately 42% of caregivers reported taking care of their parents or parents-in-law, and their major concerns are about maintaining their income, scheduling tasks, and updating their knowledge as needed to better care for their loved ones. People use texting or messaging the most. However, the second and third highest utilization are different. The “neither” group significantly spends more time checking email and watching TV; the care recipients spend more time reading and watching TV (sedentary activities); the caregiver group spends more time on phone calls and listening to music.

Conclusions: Findings of different patterns of digital device use exist between caregivers, care recipients, and the “neither” group, with 75% of caregivers using a digital device app related to health or reporting willingness to use a health-related app developed from our study. Our findings of their caregiving experiences might also inform the design of different intervention programs aimed at promoting mental, physical, and social well-being, improving quality of life while reducing disease/disability burden for older adults, and preventing burnout among caregivers.