As a caregiver, you are constantly being called on to learn something new or to make yet another decision on behalf of your loved one. Often these challenges can be difficult. The knowledge you need to master can be complex or highly technical, and the decisions you're confronted with can involve a high level of uncertainty. At such times, there's not only strength in numbers but also comfort and wisdom.
Your spiritual leader can be a source of guidance in helping you navigate the ethical issues that can be associated with caregiving or in sorting through the consequences of life-changing decisions you may need to make in ways that are consistent with your values. You might also decide you need professional guidance. Choose from among the lawyers, financial planners, insurance agents, and bankers who specialize in eldercare issues.
The Online Option
For more practical, everyday concerns, the Internet is a great source of information, though not every site you visit is trustworthy. Rather than use a search engine, begin your hunt for information on a trusted site, for instance www.aarp.org or www.healthfinder.gov, and seek out links that they approve for relevant, reliable information.
You can also join an online support group or forum. Caregiver support groups are designed to foster the sharing of information, insight, and encouragement. They provide an opportunity to learn from others who face the same challenges you do, to talk about your experiences, and to ask for advice. ElderCare Online presents regular support groups with experienced moderators, set but flexible topics, and supportive peers. Check the ElderCare Online's Caregiver Support Center for a complete schedule.
If time is at a premium, you can join a listserv. You can log on and post a question or comment any time of day or night. And because anyone can join, you benefit from an extremely wide range of experience and expertise. One reputable listserv that may be of interest is the adultcaregivers listserv. You can sign up at groups.yahoo.com/subscribe/adultcaregivers.
The One-on-One Option
While the Internet is certainly convenient, it's not a substitute for the one-on-one interactions you can have in a community support group. Community support groups are made up of people who live near each other and meet on a set schedule. Because the members of your group will be from your area, they'll be familiar with local resources and better able to understand some of the challenges you face. In addition, taking time off to attend a community support group breaks up your routine, introduces you to new people, and gets you out of the house. Participating in a local support group can also be helpful when you live some distance from your family member — you will still benefit from good ideas and helpful information that you can then apply within your family member's community.
Not every support group may be right for you, however. A good place to start is with recommendations from friends, spiritual leaders, and the staff at your community's Department of Social Services. Look for groups that have been around for a while and that are led by someone with experience both as a caregiver and as a facilitator.