Donna Thomson is thankful for the role that digital technology played while she was taking care of her mother who died at age 96 last summer. “It gave me peace of mind,” the Ottawa resident recalls. “It provided us with the information we needed to find the right assisted living facility for her in Montreal.”

Without access to that information, Thomson and her sister, who was also helping, constantly had a cloud of doubt and anxiety hanging over them. “We always felt that we were one hour or one minute away from a complete catastrophe, including the possibility of my mother being homeless and not having a place where she could get the care she needed,” says Thomson.

She looked to Huddol, an online community that connects caregivers to peer and expert guidance along the entire care journey. Huddol provided Donna with resources that were useful to her as a caregiver for both her son who has severe cerebral palsy and her mother. Huddol is a new kind of social network dedicated to helping people overcome some of life’s toughest challenges – the first of its kind in Canada – created with the goal of helping family caregivers navigate the care journey through insights and emotional support shared by others who have been there, leading healthcare experts and service providers.

Within the platform, members are able to find communities centered around their area of need, whether it’s support for their own emotional well-being or guidance around a health condition. Huddol also provides members with access to a Wellness Marketplace featuring a range of discounted services and products from mindfulness coaching to counselling resources to homecare and more.

Within a few months of its beta roll out in the fall of 2017, Huddol, managed by the non-profit organization, the Canadian Caregiver Network, was an early success, growing to more than 15,000 members in short time. It was clear from the start that the need was great for this type of resource, the brainchild of Mark Stolow, Huddol’s founder and CEO.

Huddol founder Mark Stolow

“The difficulties families face when they become caregivers has a way of turning them in on themselves. There’s the stigma of the illness, the time it takes away from social relationships, and the sheer intensity and complexity of the task of having someone else’s life in your hands,” he says. “Huddol is focused on reversing that isolating trend and using the power of smart, caring connections to improve the health of caregivers and those in their care.”

Though there are other online communities available for caregivers, Huddol offered something unique to those like Thomson. “I think the niche that Huddol carved out for itself is different from all of the other online spaces for caregivers that I know about and am involved in,” she says. “Huddol combines formal or healthcare professional engagement with informal support. You can engage with professionals or other caregivers. It is multiple things to multiple people depending on what they need. Its information sharing and support come from the heart and from the head. Everyone has some sort of thread running through their lives that relates to caregiving.”

Though not a healthcare professional herself, Thomson passed along tips to other caregivers that she had picked up through her interactions with her mother’s care team. For example, she was able to share advice with fellow Huddol members about how to stimulate the appetite of someone who isn’t interested in eating.

“A particular specialist told me that sweet is the last taste sensation to go,” she explains. “It was suggested I sweetened my mother’s diet to make foods more appealing. I was able to give this information freely to somebody else who had the same question I had.” She is continuing to share her knowledge through her website and a new book, The Unexpected Journey of Caring, co-authored with Dr. Zachary White.

In recognition of the importance of the relationship between caregivers and pharmacies, Teva Canada partnered with Huddol to create the Caregiver Friendly Pharmacy program. The program includes accredited training for pharmacy teams and online resources available through TevaCanada.com/Caregivers, including a mapping tool that helps caregivers find a local pharmacy that specializes in responding to their unique needs.

Bridging the gap between Canada’s 8.1 million unpaid caregivers and pharmacy teams is a crucial step, confirmed by recent research findings. A survey conducted by Teva Canada and the Canadian Caregiver Network with caregivers across Canada about their in-pharmacy experience revealed that 78 per cent said the pharmacist is important in making them feel competent and confident in managing medication for the care of their loved one. Eighty-three per cent of caregivers also said that they pick up medication for the person in their care, making them a vital part of the continuum of care from pharmacy and back home.

“Too often caregivers go unnoticed as they move through the healthcare system – but we know they play such an important role in advocating, mediating and coordinating through their interactions with healthcare professionals,” explains Stolow. “With Teva Canada, we saw a clear opportunity to help optimize the relationship between caregivers and the pharmacy team, and engage caregivers as critical healthcare stakeholders.”

Presented by Teva Canada.