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Tuesday, Mar 31, 2015

The value of video technology for caregivers

Commonsense Caregiving


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There is not a caregiver out there who hasn't experienced the overwhelming feeling of isolation at one time or another. And for those who have never been caregivers, it is not easy to understand how someone could actually feel alone when they are caring for a loved one 24/7.

It's a natural human trait to feed off of each other's emotions. So if you're caring for someone with dementia, there's a good chance that a dark cloud of depression is lurking throughout your home.

I have personally experienced a loved one enduring somber periods where they have cried for hours at a time. I have heard this scenario described over and over again by other caregivers as well. We all know this is not a room you would want to enter, but as a caregiver you have no choice; you must cross that threshold.

As time passes the strong sensation of abandonment starts to creep in. At first you honestly think your phone is out of order because it hasn't rung in days.

As you can now see, support groups are very important for caregivers. As human beings we need to have some type of social contact. At these meetings, being surrounded by peers is extremely uplifting and recharging. It has a special effect that a simple phone call just won't cover.

Recently, however, I have discovered that the next best thing is a video discussion. With today's technology, we now have the option of chatting "face to face," so to speak.

When we converse with each other, we use verbal and nonverbal communication skills. The verbal part is actually only 15-20 percent of our exchange. Hand gestures, facial expressions and body language help make up the rest.

If you tell a dementia patient or just about anybody for that matter that they need to stop what they're doing and that it is unsafe and the whole time you have your finger waving in front of their face, what do you think they're going to remember? Your finger, of course!

Using programs like Skype, Google Hangout or Zoom, which I happen to like the best, are great tools for caregivers and patients.

Lonely caregivers often run into this scenario; a sibling may say, "I just talked to mom on the phone and she's doing great. My sister is doing such a good job taking care of her." What they don't realize is this; by the time mom hung up the phone, she had absolutely no idea who she just talked to and "sister" is to the point where she's about to start pulling her hair out!

By placing "mom" in front of a computer screen where she literally sees and talks with her relatives or friends, she may retain more of the conversation. Also, on the other side of the coin, the person on the other end may actually see the cognitive impairment that is taking place. Hopefully, they will then see that the caregiver desperately needs some assistance and respite before they completely melt down.

I host a weekly support group that's exclusively on Zoom. We have caregivers from all over the country discussing all different types of dementia issues. I highly encourage others to start other video support groups. This program offers space for up to 25 attendees to participate in a meeting. Nobody has to leave their living room. Support is delivered right to their computer screen.

I know that when I started this journey 15 years ago, this wasn't even a possibility. I've video chatted with patients and caregivers all around the globe as if we're sitting, having coffee at my kitchen table. It's amazing how times have changed.

Gary Joseph LeBlanc was the primary caregiver of his father for a decade after he was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He can be reached at His newly released book, "Managing Alzheimer's and Dementia Behaviors," as well as "While I Still Can" and the expanded edition of "Staying Afloat in a Sea of Forgetfullness" can be found at

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