Social Networking Sites Reach Out to Those Battling Illnesses

Source: 
The Daily Journal
Published: 
07/14/2008

 

The Daily Journal

 

When Beth Zeedyk's elderly mother needed open heart surgery in February, she was concerned about getting accurate updates to her relatives scattered across the country.

But a week before the procedure Zeedyk realized her solution was just a mouse click away. She created an interactive Web page on a social networking site for people dealing with illnesses. Within minutes Zeedyk was able to keep her mother's friend's and family informed on her condition.

"With everybody living in so many different places, we would have had to do a phone tree, but this way I knew everybody was getting the same information in a timely manner," Zeedyk said.

The Web site, CarePages.com, is the largest among several similar sites created in recent years to help those coping with illness connect to a broad community of support and information. Companies like Chicago-based CarePages highlight the Internet's part in the evolution of caregiving, easing some of its pressures by providing a wealth of resources and support at their fingertips. And these resources will be needed by more people, as the wave of baby boomers ages.

"The Web has grown into an amazingly large resource for caregivers," said Bonnie Lawrence, spokeswoman for the Family Caregiver Alliance. "It offers a lot of information on specific care techniques ... and there are multitudes of online groups to share information with other caregivers and with a professional in the field."

Communicating with ease

CarePages.com, which has more than 3 million users worldwide, enables people coping with illnesses to create a community of support. Visitors can offer help and blessings and creators can ask for assistance keeping visitors in the loop.

The Web site is free, and has privacy settings limiting who can access the CarePages. Riverside Medical Center is in the network of CarePage's partnership with more than 700 hospitals in the U.S. and Canada that offer enhanced and customized versions of CarePages as an extension of their patient services.

Riverside spokesman Carl Maronich said the hospital joined CarePage's hospital network after seeing the dramatic impact the site has made in its relatively short existence.

"It widens the scope of support," Maronich said. "That page then continues with [patients] after they leave the hospital and can become an ongoing journal, an interactive piece that tracks their progress."

While Zeedyk's mother, Martha Lehnus, 75, was in surgery at Riverside, she was able to send out personalized Web pages via e-mail to loved ones immediately after talking to doctors. Without an exhausting list of phone calls to conquer, she was able to keep everyone abreast throughout the procedure.

This streamlined communication process eases some of caregivers' stress.

And during the recovery process Zeedyk could sit at her mother's bedside and read well wishes sent from those who received the CarePages, which Zeedyk said helped "tremendously" during recovery.

Managing care

CarePages co-founder Sharon Langshur said the emotional support the caregivers and patients receive is the most meaningful element of the site, according to feedback from users.

"The CarePage allows people to stay involved," Langshur said.

Caregivers often end up feeling isolated, but the collection of support through online resources can help remind them they are not alone. And it goes beyond sending messages, too. They can schedule helping hands to take on tasks like providing transportation, cooking meals and mowing the lawn.

"Close to 80 percent of long-term care in this country is done by families," said Bonnie Lawrence. "And you're dealing with complicated, sometimes terminal, diseases; the stress from that is just enormous."

Marion Somers, a New York-based geriatric care manager and author of "Elder Care Made Easier," said with the daily demands and stress of being a caregiver they may not feel like there is enough time to use online resources.

"Just the fact that they can get through a day is about all they can manage," she said.

But researching what could be in store for the patient can actually save time, even if the caregiver does not have a computer or know how to use one. Somers suggested visiting a local library and having a librarian help with the searches.

"When people are proactive and understand what's down the road, either two weeks or two years, and they can prepare for it, the level of anxiety gets lower," Somers said.

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