CaringBridge: Don’t Go Through Your Caregiving Journey Alone!

Rosalynn Carter, former first lady and prominent advocate for caregivers, famously stated that there are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers; those who are currently caregivers; those who will be caregivers; and those who will need caregivers.

For those of us who are caregivers, we’re very aware that caregiving takes a toll on both physical and mental health and well-being. Even something simple such as texting or emailing updates to family and friends can be challenging when you are overwhelmed with caregiving tasks. Luckily, there are tools available to help caregivers manage the stress that comes along with supporting a loved one.

A New Communication Platform Is Born

Twenty-five years ago, Sona Mehring, an IT professional and entrepreneur, started CaringBridge to help her good friends who had a very premature baby communicate with friends and family. When she created a website the night their baby was born, the first CaringBridge site was also born. The website Sona created received 1,000 hits in one week. It instantly eased the communication burden for the family, connecting friends and family on an emotional and supportive level. It freed the baby’s family from having to take the time to send updates via email and make a bunch of phone calls, which gave them more time to devote to their baby. CaringBridge eventually became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, and provides all of its services and support at no charge to the public, but as any other charity, it of course accepts voluntary donations.

Since its inception, CaringBridge grew in leaps and bounds. By the end of the first year (1997), there were 50 personal websites that had 4,900 visits. By the end of 2003, there were 11,522 personal websites with 10,704,145 visits. In 2007 for its 10th anniversary, CaringBridge was featured on NBC Nightly News and grew to 81,355 personal sites with 69,026,126 visits. Sona retired in June 2017, as CaringBridge marked its 20th anniversary. Her legacy: 743,516 personal websites and more than 2.1 billion visits!

How CaringBridge Works

Caring for another person can be stressful. But there are ways to navigate through the stress that can help avoid caregiver burnout. Here are some of the features of CaringBridge that can help:

  • Journaling: As a caregiver, you can keep a journal on CaringBridge to keep everyone posted on your loved one’s progress and/or write through the highs and lows of your caregiving journey. Family and friends can react to your entries and leave encouraging comments if they choose to do so.
  • Planning: Caregivers have so much on their plate. From day-to-day errands to the specific chores, their to-do list is overwhelming. It is helpful to recruit others to pitch in wherever you can for tasks, including helping with meal planning, trips to the pharmacy, walking the dog, watering plants, etc. Using CaringBridge, caregivers can easily ask their CaringBridge online community of family members, friends, and local community members to help with some of these tasks. Asking for help via CaringBridge is a lot easier for most caregivers then sending emails or texts to specific people, or even a list of specific people, to ask for help, because for the caregiver it doesn’t feel like you’re trying to impose on one person or a specific list of people. The caregiver is simply posting a request to the community, and if someone is available and willing, they can respond as needed.
  • Tools to help: CaringBridge offers tools to make it easy to communicate your needs. For example, the site can help caregivers:
    • Start a GoFundMe to raise money for medical expenses.
    • Start a Meal Train to organize those who want to provide support through home-cooked meals and more.
    • Order groceries with Shipt to help with everyday essentials.
  • Co-Authoring: Having one or more co-authors for a CaringBridge site means having help with:
    • Posting updates, photos, and videos.
    • Viewing and responding to comments.
    • Setting up ways to help, including GoFundMe, Meal Train, and planner tasks.

How to Build a CaringBridge Website

More than 300,000 people use the CaringBridge platform every single day. CaringBridge is secure, free to use, not-for-profit, ad-free, and easy to use. If you have trouble setting up a site or with your site once it’s set up, CaringBridge offers free support. Here are the steps to get started:

  1. Register Your Email Address: Visit Caringbridge.org/createwebsite and sign up with your email, connect your Facebook account, or connect your Google account to easily start a site for yourself or a loved one.
  2. Personalize Your Site: Personalize your site by indicating if the site is for you or someone else, and what you would like the site title and site address to be.
  3. Choose Your Privacy Settings: You control access to your site and can see who is visiting and following it. You also decide if your site is searchable online by search engines like Google.
  4. Start Posting Your Updates: Let people know what’s happening. Share a quick update, write a longer journal entry, post a photo, or upload a video. Your site is all about what you need to say and hear.

Build a Caregiver Support Team

Taking a team approach to caregiving can be essential to preserving your well-being and can also be very helpful to others who are going through the same thing that you’re going through. What many caregivers fail to realize is that if they don’t care for themselves – and lighten the burden – there may be no one around to care for their loved one.

To relieve some of the stress, form a care team! Find ways to loop in other family or friends. It will take some of the strain and responsibility off you, and it can help them know they still have a place in their loved one’s life.

Besides using some of the helpful tools on CaringBridge, these are some steps to help you set up a caregiving team:

  • Identify tasks you need help with: Start by identifying the tasks you need help with. Is it paying bills or preparing meals? Or, do you need help with assisting your loved one with activities of daily living, such as bathing and hygiene? After you know what needs to be done, it will be easier to identify the right people for the job.
  • Turn to siblings: Though you may be the lead caregiver, it’s critical to let other family members, such as siblings, know that they need to play a role, too.
  • Look to friends and neighbors: Depending on the relationships you have, friends and neighbors can be another viable source of help. You may not want a neighbor to help pay bills, but you might feel comfortable asking her to watch your kids while you run your mom to the doctor’s. Be sure you are clear about what the person will be doing and the time commitment, as people are more likely to lend a hand if the expectations are clearly defined.
  • Know which resources are available: The ElderCare Locator, sponsored by the U.S. Administration on Aging, is one place to start. You can also get information from local churches, synagogues, senior centers, and government agencies. Once you start looking, you may find a whole network of services available to help.
  • Hire help: If you have the resources, you may consider hiring people to be part of your caregiving team. Hired help might include a geriatric care manager (also called an aging life care specialist), who can help you plan and orchestrate your relative’s care. You may consider hiring a home health aide, house cleaning service, a handyman, lawn care, or transportation service.
  • Find a support group: A support group can serve as a place for you to meet others in similar situations, ask questions about specific challenges, and get information about community resources.
  • Get some respite: Most caregivers eventually need a break from the rigors of caregiving. That’s when you should find someone to provide respite care. Whether it’s a couple of hours a week at an adult day care or a weekend break provided by your sister, the goal is to give you time away from your duties to recharge.

Are You a Family Caregiver?

If you are a caregiver for a loved one, it is wise to plan in advance for yourself and your loved one, especially with the catastrophic costs of long-term care. At the Farr Law Firm, we assist our clients with Life Care Planning and Medicaid Asset Protection, the process of protecting your assets from having to be completely spent down paying privately for long-term care, weather at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home. We help our clients ensure that their loved ones get the best possible care and maintain the highest possible quality of life. Please call us whenever you are ready to make an appointment for a no-cost initial consultation:

Elder Care Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Care Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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