BILLINGS — There are 53 million unpaid family caregivers in the United States. That's more than 1 out of every 5 adults, and most of those caregivers have jobs and lives of their own to manage.
It’s a problem one Billings woman saw her family go through firsthand, and she thought there had to be a better way - so she created it.
"I remember when he passed away thinking, ‘Gosh, this whole end-of-life season that people go through with an aging adult could look so different,'" said Avanlee Christine.
Christine was 10 years old when her grandfather was diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s disease. She saw her mom and aunts struggle with his care for a long time, and the toll it took on them.
"They were pretty unequipped," she said. "They didn't really know what to do."
So when her grandmother started needing care a few years ago, Christine came back to Billings with a mission.
"I thought, 'You know what? I can do this,'" she said. "I can make this whole process easier."
Christine had an idea for an all-in-one solution to elderly family care - an app that allows families to set an aging parent’s medication schedule, check current vital signs with FitBit integration, and even have groceries delivered through a new Walmart partnership.
"So many people in this age group are not coming in to shop, often can't come in to shop," she said, "and adult children needed a way to get mom and dad what they needed to age safely at home."
Christine's grandmother was the first one to receive a delivery.
"There were tears in my eyes, and I went to the Walmart driver delivering groceries asking, ‘Can I take your picture?’" Christine said with a laugh. "She asked, 'Was there something wrong with the order?' I said, 'No! This is just a big deal.'"
Christina and partner Chris Monson launched the app in April 2020, one month after the COVID-19 pandemic started. They had an early surge of downloads.
"My mother who’s in her 80s, had an incident during COVID," said Michael Mendenhall, an early Avanlee app user. "We were all pretty disparate spread around the country, trying to manage her care. It was very confusing."
So Mendenhall and his siblings were thrilled when they discovered Avanlee.
"This is a shared responsibility, and it's with the patient as well," he said. "Some of the elderly people you're caring for feel like you're making decisions on their behalf. They want to be a part of that."
Avanlee has helped over 3,000 families so far, and the company is expecting those numbers to double by the end of the year. As they continue to grow in Billings, Christine has one hope.
"If we can be on social media platforms and know what celebrities are having for lunch, we should be able as a family to collectively download an app for someone very close to us and make this easier," she said.
In a process that’s often anything but easy, it’s a welcome relief.