Chen Xiong is an award-winning PhD student in the Rehabilitation Sciences Institute at the University of Toronto under the supervision of Dr. Angela Colantonio. He holds a MSc in Rehabilitation Sciences from the University of Toronto and a BHSc (Honours) from McMaster University. Chen Xiong has been actively working with technology and caregiver needs since 2014 where he has led a project examining the needs and preferences of technology among Chinese family caregivers of persons with dementia as part of his MSc thesis with Dr. Colantonio. Prior to this project, Chen has also been involved in several other projects on traumatic brain injury, return to work and brain tumours.
Digital technology to support informal caregivers: matching the tools to the needs from a sex and gender perspective
More than 25% of the Canadian population aged over 15 are informal caregivers. They provide unpaid care to family members or close friends with long-term health conditions, disabilities or aging needs. Informal caregiving helps reduce the social costs associated with health services and institutionalization. However, caregiving is highly stressful and associated with poor mental health and increased risk of mortality and serious illness. Female caregivers report more physical and mental health issues, while males receive less social support. Moreover, lost productivity due to caregiving related absenteeism costs employers an estimated $5.5 billion annually. With the expected decrease in the availability of informal care resulting from socio-demographic trends, it becomes paramount to offer supports and services that enable informal caregivers in their roles.
The use of digital technologies including mobile applications, home monitoring systems and e-health applications to assist in the delivery of care is a growing innovation with the potential to have significant benefits to Canadians receiving care in the home and community, as well as a solution to address growing pressures on informal caregivers. Yet, sex, gender and diversity considerations have not been considered systematically in the design and evaluation of these technologies despite their importance in many other areas. This may also explain the uneven uptake of potentially beneficial supports.
This project will develop an evidence-based technology evaluation framework that explicitly addresses sex, gender and diversity considerations. As part of a novel multi-step structural program, we will first gather key sex, gender and diversity considerations in caregiving and technology development through a systematic review and retrospective data analysis of caregivers’ priorities relating to technology. We will then use these data to iteratively develop the framework through several rounds of discussion and testing with informal caregivers, technology developers and policymakers. Finally, we will test the newly developed framework through a proof of concept study.
As a pioneering partnership involving both policymakers and researchers, our team of established collaborators includes world renowned leaders in caregiving, technology assessment and implementation, as well as representatives from federal government. This first of its kind instrument has the potential to make a positive impact in the design and uptake of technologies to support caregivers. As the first study of its kind that explicitly considers sex, gender and diversity influences in technology development, evaluation and implementation, this project pioneers a comprehensive gendered approach to improve research, policy-making and support for informal caregivers.