En español | Have you ever wondered:
"My mother is driving me crazy, but who can I tell?"
"How can I help Dad out of bed without breaking my own back?"
"Who is going to drive Mom to her doctor's appointment?"
If so, you're a caregiver. And if so, odds are you could benefit from online tools to lighten your load.
See also: Caregivers can get paid.
Use these tools to make caregiving easier:
"Facebook has been seen more as the high school reunion of the Internet world," says Sherri Snelling, CEO and founder of the Caregiving Club. But it's evolving beyond that — and growing in popularity among caregivers. "Caregiving is a life event that so many boomer women are facing, and more and more are seeking out places where they can blow off some steam."
Through Facebook groups, caregivers can vent about a bad day, keep faraway family members informed of Mom's or Dad's condition and put a call out for volunteers when they need some help. You can post pictures and videos of your loved one and network with other caregivers through Facebook groups such as the Unprepared Caregiver and Today's Caregiver.
To use it, all you need is an email address and password to start your own page. You can then add as much or as little information about yourself as you'd like. Connect with friends and family through their email address and join Facebook groups by clicking the "Like" button. Once you have some Facebook friends and groups, you'll start to see their posts and updates. Then jump in with your own question, photograph or rant.
Talking to friends and family is important, but often it's people having experiences like your own who can offer the most support. "Online forums put you in touch with people who understand how stressful caregiving can be and won't judge you for saying, 'this really stinks' or 'the person I'm caring for is ticking me off today,' " says Beth McNaughton, vice president of community for Inspire.com, an online forum with more than 200,000 members.
On Inspire, you'll find nearly 200 support groups for everything from Alzheimer's to heart disease to incontinence. The boards appeal to patients and caregivers alike who want disease information and a sympathetic ear, McNaughton says. Other popular online groups include AARP's online community, the Alzheimer's Association message boards and Family Caregiver Alliance.
Before posting to a message board, McNaughton says, you should adopt a pseudonym to protect your privacy. Reading through past posts is important, too, she says, because this will give you an idea of whether the community is offering the type of support you need. Moderated boards, such as Inspire, will also offer more security, since you know that there is a third party who will weed out offensive posts and block people who are abusing the service.
Are you scrambling to figure out who will take Mom to her next doctor's visit and who will cook meals for Dad next week? Online tools can keep you organized and even make asking for help a bit easier.
At MealTrain, you can ask friends, family and neighbors to schedule days and times when they might drop off a dinner. You can specify food allergies, likes and dislikes and ensure that your parent has healthy meals arriving when they're needed, instead of all at once.
At WhatFriendsDo, you can request help with whatever chores or errands your parent needs done. Make a list on your personal website if you need to — walking the dog daily, taking in the trash cans, mowing the lawn — so that volunteers can sign up for specific duties.
Don't know how to safely transfer your parent from his bed to his chair? Do you need a reminder of why it's important to focus on your own health as well as your loved one's? And do you prefer watching videos to reading online? Check out YouTube.
YouTube videos serve as educational tools for the hands-on work of caregiving. Physical and occupational therapists from the Memory and Aging Center at the University of California in San Francisco give a step-by-step tutorial on how to help your loved one sit up in bed and how you can change his sheets. The Caregiving Club offers "Me Time Monday" tips on ways caregivers can focus on their own health and wellness.
To view videos on YouTube, you'll need audio on your computer. You can use the search terms "caregiver" or "caregiving" to find other videos of interest or type in particular topics of interest, such as "medication management" or "incontinence."
And if you're on Twitter …
Twitter can help keep you abreast of the latest caregiving-related news by following the hashtags #caregiver and #caregiving. Because Twitter continuously updates, it's a good way to stay on top of the latest issues surrounding elder care needs. To register for Twitter, simply select a user name and then type in your search terms. And if you decide to post, just remember to keep your thoughts to less than 140 characters.
Also of interest: Ways to deal with caregiver stress. >>
Cynthia Ramnarace writes about health and families. She's based in Rockaway Beach, N.Y.
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