Academic journal article Generations

Cleveland Free-Net Alzheimer's Forum

Academic journal article Generations

Cleveland Free-Net Alzheimer's Forum

Article excerpt

In the city of Cleveland, Ohio, in 1989, the local chapter of the Alzheimer's Association developed an online caregiver's forum for family members caring for a relative with Alzheimer's disease. The chapter, located at the University Hospitals of Cleveland, began the experimental project to put caregivers online through Cleveland Free-Net, a free Internet access provider for community users. Typically older adults with little or no computer experience, the caregivers could hook into the generic features of the Free-Net: e-mail, the question-and-answer function, and the bulletin board structure. Forum developers expected that the caregivers would primarily want to get expert medical advice by positing questions for the hospital's professional staff to answer and also to find out the latest news on Alzheimer's research.

However, from the beginning, when the first users were trained and given free computers and modems, they dialed in to talk to each other-sometimes waiting through two hours of busy signals to get an open Free-Net telephone line. The forum became a 24-hour-a-day support group. Now, many caregivers log on in the wee hours of the morning when their family member is sleeping. They can feel free to thrash out everyday problems they have encountered, and they get heartfelt encouragement from others in similar situations. In particular, the caregivers can share solutions for dealing with difficult Alzheimer's behavior as well as the pain of dealing with the hard decisions about placing a loved one in a nursing facility. …

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