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Can Caregivers “Game” Their Stress Away?

Being a caregiver is the toughest job that no one ever talks about.

According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, more than 65 million Americans are caregivers to family members with a vast array of illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, advanced diabetes, Parkinson’s disease and many others.

According to government statistics, they experience a higher risk of stroke, double the rate of chronic health conditions and enjoy a 40 to 70 percent increase in the rate of suffering from depression. In addition, they cost businesses in the country more than $33 billion in lost productivity according to an AARP study, which makes job security an additional source of stress.

“What’s more is that caregivers never give themselves a break,” said Sharon Brothers, a social worker with nearly two decades experience with caregivers and their families. “Most caregivers are adding this role on top of their work, their children, marriage and other commitments.  Just finding time for a break can seem impossible, given the increased demands on an already busy life.”

Brothers is also executive vice president of Caregiver Village (www.caregivervillage.com), an omnibus Internet community and resource hub for caregivers that includes expert forum hosts and even an online caregiver game. Her view is caregivers need real tools with a side order of recreation to relieve their stresses.

“Caregivers really value contact with other caregivers who share their experiences and challenges,” Brothers said. “Despite the large numbers of people affected, you’d be amazed how alone they often feel. And the truth is that no matter the situation that made them a caregiver, many of the challenges they face are the same. They have more in common with each other than just about any other group of Americans.”

The lack of recreation is also a factor, which is why Brothers and the Caregiver Village team created an interactive online game for caregivers to help them enjoy a little guilt-free entertainment.

“Computer games are being used productively in a wide array of critical pursuits,” Brothers said. “Just recently it was announced that a group of gamers used a puzzle game they created to help AIDS researchers map a key enzyme that could be used as a protease inhibitor for AIDS patients. Researchers had worked for 10 years to unlock the code that gamers deciphered in three weeks. If they can use games to save lives, we figured we could use a game that is based on the mission of caregiving to offer people a little relief from their daily grind. We’ve divided the game into episodes that can be played in a short amount of time and we’ve embedded information that can help caregivers in their mission. That way, they don’t have to feel guilty about playing it – they’re actually learning from it. At the end of the day, we believe some of these elements can help bring a little stress relief to people whose days never truly end.”

About Sharon Brothers

Executive Vice President of Caregiver Village, Sharon Brothers, holds a Masters Degree in social work from the University of British Columbia. She built and managed some of the very first specialty care centers for people with Alzheimer’s and dementia in both Washington and California, and has more recently developed an e-learning company for caregiving professionals.  She works with family caregivers both in Caregiver Village and in her leadership of a family support group for her community hospital.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

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