Internet based support groups have a potential to provide social support to older caregivers of adults with ID

By Elizabeth A. Perkins, PhD, RNMH
College of Behavioral & Community Sciences, University of South Florida

Social support from other caregivers can be very helpful. Caregivers can get different types of social support by sharing their feelings about challenges, successes, and getting information about new resources. They also receive valuable advice on how to solve particular problems. However, it can be difficult for older caregivers to attend in-person caregiver support groups, and receive the benefit of the social support.

What did you do in your research?
We looked at computer and Internet use by older adults, caregivers, and adults with intellectual disabilities (ID). We also looked at the Internet use by different types of support groups, and what advantages and disadvantages were found.

What did you find out?
Computer use among older adults is increasing rapidly. Advantages of using online support groups include convenience, saving time, not needing respite care, and having a larger pool of people to exchange information. Disadvantages include spreading inaccurate or misleading information, and misunderstandings that can occur from misreading the tone of written communications. Effective leadership is very important to ensure all support group members feel valued and included. Universal Web Design was found to be equally helpful to older adults and individuals with ID.

What are the take-home messages?
Internet based support groups for older caregivers have the potential to provide an excellent way to give and receive social support. Online support groups can help replace the loss of in-person social support that can be experienced with increasing age. It is also a great idea for online support groups to provide useful educational content.

To learn more about these findings contact
Elizabeth A. Perkins.

Full Journal Article
Perkins, E.A., and LaMartin, K.M. (2012). The Internet as Social Support for Older Carers of Adults with Intellectual Disabilities. Journal of Policy and Practice in Intellectual Disabilities, 9(1), 53-62.