I started the habit of getting up at 4 a.m. during my most intensive caregiving days. It was the only way I could find some regular peace and quiet because there were no demands at that hour. It was a rare moment when I could connect with my soul and listen to the universe for guidance. These very early mornings to myself were all that kept me somewhat sane throughout my years of caregiving, although some may disagree with me on the success of that last point!
Around-the-Clock Support for Caregivers
Eventually, I learned that I am not the only family caregiver who operates in this fashion. I became an AgingCare.com contributor many years ago, and one of my duties was moderating the online Caregiver Forum. I would receive email alerts whenever people posted on the site, and I quickly noticed that most came in very late at night or very early in the morning. (Late night and early morning are subjective terms, I have found.)
When I signed into my email around 5 a.m., the notifications from AgingCare would string out like a list of people hoping to win the lottery. I was gratified to see this list in my inbox. Not only did I have the opportunity to add my two cents of hard-won wisdom from my years in the trenches, but even more importantly, I was also able to see all these wonderful family caregivers supporting each other in real time.
I would check my email throughout the day as I worked on my computer. In the daytime, there were a few posts, but most of the action in the forum happened in the evenings and overnight. Why is this so? Well, if you think about it, what family caregiver has ample free time during the day?
Caregivers must schedule appointments, provide transportation, pick up prescriptions, run errands, prepare meals, manage incontinence care, assist with bathing and dressing, and research elder care options and respite resources—all in addition to seeing to their own lives. The only real down time we get in this job is in the wee small hours when the rest of the world is asleep. Even still, middle of the night interruptions are common, whether brought on by caregiver stress or a loved one’s wandering or need to use the restroom.
Online Support Groups for Caregivers Combat Loneliness
During the day when we are feeling overwhelmed, all we want is some alone time to ourselves. But these solitary moments that come at night, although precious, can also be the most lonesome.
This is where support from those who understand comes in. This is why members of the Caregiver Forum will give up an hour of much-needed sleep to find out they are not as isolated as they think and to help one another. They are not alone when they log on, and they want others to know that they, too, are not on their own.
Since the Forum’s humble beginnings in the late 2000s, this group has exploded in numbers and the people are amazing. Countless friendships have been formed here, and there are threads composed of tens of thousands of posts that have been active for more than a decade.
When moderating, I would click on questions and discussions and scroll through answers and comments to see if I should chime in. Many times fellow caregivers were taking such good care of each other that they didn’t need much from me. Still, I felt compelled to mention in passing how incredible it was to see perfect strangers brought together by a shared experience rallying to help one another cope.
Making Connections With Caregivers
While most people tout the benefits of in-person caregiver support groups, attending these meetings isn’t always feasible. Even if it’s just online, caregivers can find many support groups dedicated to their unique needs. Best of all, this resource—all these family caregivers with big hearts and their own first-hand elder care knowledge—is accessible from anywhere and at any time of day.
Family caregivers can come to places like the Caregiver Forum to hear that they are doing their best—and that’s enough. Here, they can drop the guilt and the formalities. They can receive invaluable insight from peers who have also walked this difficult path. Sometimes caregivers just need to be reminded that it’s okay to ask for help and take care of themselves, that they are good enough as they are, and that their needs matter, too. They can also pay it forward by lifting up other members who are searching for a sense of clarity and community.
After they have unburdened themselves, received some sincere encouragement and gathered some practical advice, they can then catch a few hours of sleep (if they’re lucky) before the demands of caregiving resume once again.
Find Support Online
Interested in joining the Caregiver Forum but don’t know where to begin? Browse our complete guide of caregiving topics or peruse our most popular questions and discussions here. As a newcomer, you might start by just reading. You may be surprised by how much you gain from hearing from people who are in situations that are similar to yours. When you are ready, ask a question, share your own story or offer some words of wisdom... because sometimes helping others actually helps you, too.