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Albers EA, Mikal J, Millenbah A, Finlay J, Jutkowitz E, Mitchell L, Horn B, Gaugler JE. The Use of Technology Among Persons With Memory Concerns and Their Caregivers in the United States During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Qualitative Study. JMIR aging. 2022 Mar 17; 5(1):e31552.
BACKGROUND: Stay-at-home orders and other public health measures designed to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have increased isolation among persons with memory concerns (PWMCs: individuals diagnosed with cognitive impairment or Alzheimer disease or related dementias). The pandemic has also exacerbated challenges for family members who care for PWMCs. Although technology has demonstrated the potential to improve the social connections and mental health of PWMCs and their family caregivers (CGs), previous research shows that older adults may be reluctant to adopt new technologies. OBJECTIVE: We aimed to understand why and how some PWMCs and their CGs altered their use of mainstream technology, such as smartphones and fitness trackers, and assistive technology to adapt to lifestyle changes (eg, increased isolation) during the COVID-19 pandemic. METHODS: Using data collected in 20 qualitative interviews from June to August 2020 with 20 PWMCs and family CG dyads, we assessed changes in and barriers to everyday technology use following the implementation of COVID-19 mitigation strategies in the United States. Zoom videoconferencing was utilized to conduct the interviews to protect the health of the participants who were primarily older adults. RESULTS: Using qualitative thematic analysis, we identified 3 themes that explained motivations for using technology during a pandemic: (1) maintaining social connections, (2) alleviating boredom, and (3) increasing CG respite. Results further revealed lingering barriers to PWMC and CG adoption of technologies, including: (1) PWMC dependence upon CGs, (2) low technological literacy, and (3) limitations of existing technology. CONCLUSIONS: This in-depth investigation suggests that technology can provide PWMCs with more independence and offer CGs relief from CG burden during periods of prolonged isolation.