‘Caregivers Connections’ offers online support

WELLINGTON COUNTY – An online support group for working caregivers is creating a virtual community at a time when they need it most.

Caregiver Connections Waterloo-Wellington is a private Facebook group established in October. It began as a working caregivers project based out of St. Joseph’s Health Care Centre in Guelph.

The aim was to support people who work outside the home but also take care of an elderly relative, neighbour or friend who either lives with them, or lives independently. The project was developed by a group of family caregivers, with input from focus groups and a core team of caregivers.

“The overall goal of the project focused on the needs of working caregivers in our region, looking at self-care practices and also improving access to resources in the community and system navigation, which are enormous topic areas,” said Emma Whitehouse, project lead for the Family Caregiver Education and Training Project at St. Joseph’s Health Care Centre.

The communal space also allows members an open forum for discussion with their peers to share experiences, advice and to seek support. New members must agree to the group moderator’s privacy and ethical policies to access the page.

“We want to be sure people who participate in the group know that what they say within the group is kept within the group,” Whitehouse said.

The quick onset of the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted the focus of the group as working caregivers add this daunting issue to their priority of care.

“For most of the people that we’re talking to, because of their restrictions on being in close contact with others, that just creates an immediate kind of change in routine. And a barrier, which is something that has happened really quickly. And kind of unexpectedly,” she said.

Whitehouse said that whether a working caregiver provides care for someone in their home or outside of it during this pandemic, each situation creates its own unique challenges.

“So, maybe somebody is living in your home and you’re providing care, but some of that was supplemented with outings, such as day programs in our region. And there are activities and events that might break up some of that in-home care,” Whitehouse said, noting that without these breaks it creates a new intensity in care provision.

“And then for others who are caring for people who maybe live in their own home, live independently or live in a long term-care and retirement setting, that’s something that is coming up, that people aren’t able to go and see the person that they’re used to seeing daily, weekly at their regular visits. So those are the sorts of things that we’re seeing as kind of emergent troubles and emergent struggles that people are experiencing.”

Whitehouse says the break in daily routines and interactions is hard on both caregiver and the person receiving the care.

That’s where the Caregiver Connections Waterloo-Wellington group is able to modify their efforts and continue ensuring information is accurate and accessible.

“Lots of care providers and organizations in our community are making their own posts and they’re sharing new information about the pandemic, and then basically what we’re doing is filtering that information into our site, to make sure it’s getting in the hands of the people who need it,” Whitehouse said.

She said it is important that caregivers keep reaching out to the resources in their community, whether they are established contacts or new ones.

Whitehouse encourages people to access the province’s new Ontario Caregiver website ontariocaregiver.ca, which includes a broader spectrum of caregiving, with resources, supports and advice on dealing with COVID-19.

Whitehouse says the Caregiver Connections Waterloo-Wellington will continue to keep the self-care messaging a focus for working caregivers, incorporating topics like resilience strategies and self-care practices.

“There are so many things that are out of our control. But what is in our control is making sure that people are caring for themselves and tending to their needs as caregivers.”

Caregiver Connections Waterloo-Wellington Facebook group welcomes new members at www.caregiverconnectionsww.ca.

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