A caregiver support group can be a lifeline for a family caregiver. Having a group of people sharing similar experiences is one way for caregivers to feel less isolated — and a way to obtain critical validation for their feelings and emotions. But unfortunately, caregiver support groups aren’t all that common in smaller, rural areas, and no matter where you’re located, support groups often have slim attendance.
Caregivers don’t always take advantage of support resources
AARP shares some interesting discoveries about the common reasons why caregivers avoid participating in support groups, including:
- Being uncomfortable talking to a group
- Feeling that they don’t need support
- Lack of time to attend meetings
Thanks to technology, there’s an alternative to traditional face-to-face support groups, and one that alleviates two out of three of these concerns: An online support group is a virtual, central forum, chat, or network of caregivers who can share their emotions, frustrations and experiences with others who are going through the same struggles. It’s a place where caregivers can share great resources they’ve discovered, new treatments that their loved one’s physician recommended, and offer a shoulder to lean on to others who are experiencing more struggling times.
While some online support groups are set up as chats with specific dates and times, others take a forum approach where members can post questions and comments 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. This setup provides a much-needed sense of security, and the feeling that someone is always there to listen at the precise moment they’re needed.
Benefits of online caregiver support groups
Online support groups — even informal connections that two caregivers happen to make on a standard social network — also offer the security of being behind the keyboard. Generally, people are more likely to speak their minds in a forum where they’re mostly anonymous. Even though the other person may know your real name, there’s no eye contact unless you’re using video chat, so you feel more disguised than you do in person. This makes most people more comfortable saying whatever they’re feeling online, whereas they’d hold back on the same topic in an in-person situation.
Even caregivers who think they don’t need support may find themselves joining an online support group that they stumbled across while browsing the web for information related to caregiving or their loved one’s condition. When you see a comment from a fellow caregiver that’s remarkably similar to your own situation, it creates a sense of connection to the other person. Whether these caregivers chime in with advice or admit that sometimes they struggle, too, it’s helpful to understand that there’s someone else in the world who truly “gets it.”
10 valuable online caregiving communities to get you started
Whether you’re new to the world of caregiving or have been in a caregiving role for many years, everyone could use a helping hand now and then. Here are a few online communities for caregivers to connect, ask questions, access resources, and offer support.
- CareGiving.com – CareGiving.com is an online resource and caregiver support community in one, with plenty of articles and resources as well as a multitude of ways for caregivers to interact through forums, chats, webinars, a Q&A section and much more.
- AARP Caregiving Support Community – A place for caregivers to come together and discuss tips and strategies for managing appointments, finances, emotional challenges and every aspect of caring for an aging or chronically ill loved one.
- Lotsa Helping Hands – The philosophy at Lotsa Helping Hands is “It takes a community to care for the caregiver.” A web-based and mobile application that allows you to create your own network of family and friends to collaborate and coordinate on the care of a mutual loved one, Lotsa Helping Hands has features such as a calendar, medication and vital information tracker, message board, and even a place to maintain a personal blog about your caregiving journey.
- Caring Road – Caring Road is a support network with an open discussion board and plenty of resources to help you prepare for what lies ahead. A database allows users to locate and connect with caregivers who are sharing similar experiences.
- Alz Connected – The online support community of the Alzheimer’s Association, Alz Connected is a place to lend support and get advice from fellow Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers.
- Male Caregiver Community – Male caregivers are more common than you think. Unfortunately, most men providing care to a spouse or loved one stay under the radar — they’re even less likely to reach out for help than the average female caregiver. The Male Caregiver Community provides a forum for men to connect with one another and share their experiences while benefiting from the cloak of anonymity the web provides.
- Cancer Support Community – A special place for cancer caregivers, the Cancer Support Community offers an online support system called The Living Room, where caregivers can join professionally-led online support chats each week, participate in the 24/7 discussion forum, or create a personal web page to keep family and friends up-to-date.
- EldercareABC – EldercareABC offers caregivers the ability to ask questions of both experts and fellow caregivers, find local resources, participate in free teleclasses, and get valuable information on everything from relationships to legal concerns.
- Family Caregiving Alliance – The Family Caregiving Alliance is one of the most prominent caregiver advocacy organizations, and the group’s website is a goldmine for caregivers. From state-by-state resources for caregivers to four different support groups, caregivers will always find something of value. The Caregiver Online Group is focused on caregivers for those with Alzheimer’s, dementia, stroke, brain injury and similar disabilities that impact cognitive ability. There’s also a support group just for Huntington’s Disease caregivers and a group for LGBT caregivers — a growing subset of the caregiving population.
- The Caregiver Action Network – Run by Home Instead Senior Care, the Caregiver Action Network offers resources, a special toolkit designed for family caregivers, a peer network that connects family caregivers with local experienced caregivers to offer more personalized support, a story project that collects inspirational caregiving stories to share with the world, and a forum for caregivers to discuss their most pressing concerns 24/7.
Caregivers, where do you go to connect with others, get advice and share your experiences? Do you have a favorite online or in-person community? Tell us about it in the comments below.
Post by Angela Stringfellow