Does technology bring us closer together? | Munich Center for the Economics of Aging - MEA

Does technology bring us closer together?

Background: The article explores the use of technological help with focus on distance
caregiving in Europe. In comparison to the U.S. or Canada, caregiving within families from
greater proximity is still a neglected topic in European aging research. However, due to
changing family patterns, demographic aging and increasing labor mobility, social support and
help for older family members from a greater geographical distance gains increasing
importance also in Europe. In order to support family members in need of care from a distance
(not at least pushed by the COVID-19 pandemic), technical aids seem promising to maintain
quality of life for older persons in the home care setting (e.g., fall sensors, raised toilet seat).
As several aids are designed to compensate the loss of functional abilities, technologies may
contribute for creating a favorable environment for aging in place. However, there is a lack of
empirical findings on practices, opportunities and barriers of technologies for these distance
caregiving arrangements. At the same time, little is known about these care arrangements
based on European survey data. This proposal asks, which und how technologies are used in
European families to enable caring and help from a distance. This also involves questions
about barriers to technology use and necessary framework conditions.
Aim: Aim of the study is to investigate various aspects of technology use in family caregiving
in Europe with specific focus on distance care. We explore the role of psychological, physical
and social factors in their influence of technology use and outcomes. In addition, a crosscultural
comparison highlights specific experiences of distance caregiving-arrangements with
Methods: Based on data from SHARE on 18 European countries, we investigate the
association between distance caregiving and use of technologies in the care receivers`
household on the one hand and variables concerning physical functioning (e.g., hand grip
strength, ADL), psychological (openness, health literacy) and social aspects (social networks,
loneliness) on the one hand using multiple linear and logistic regression analyses.
Results: Our results indicate limited experiences with assistive and advanced communication
technologies. Emergency call systems, occasional emergency call buttons or monitoring
technologies are used as assistive support, some of which are not always unproblematic in
terms of privacy. Telehealth, webinars or lectures on the Internet are taken up in the
literature, but are apparently hardly used in the long-distance care situation. In contrast,
traditional communication options via telephone and smartphone play a significant role.
Specific barriers to technology use relate to a lack of technology acceptance as well as
product-related failures, lack of practicality, and insufficient fit with user application in acute
situations. The applications seem hardly manageable for many potential primary and
secondary end-users. The findings also point to some significant differences in terms of
resources, care tasks and quality of life compared to caregivers in the same household.
Conclusions: It remains undisputed that unpredictable acute situations can lead to a feeling
of powerlessness and cause crises, especially for distance caregivers, where potentials of
technologies are still unfolded. However, there is still a need of further research and profound
information and independent advice for all those involved in the distance caregiving to make
the most of the different possibilities of innovative technologies concerning these family
support arrangements.


Dr. Melanie Wagner


Annette Franke

Evangelische Hochschule Ludwigsburg

Laura Schmidt

Universität Heidelberg