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INDIANAPOLIS — Can a caregiver of a person with Alzheimer's disease make meaningful use of a social networking site like Facebook? A team of researchers at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis is looking for volunteers to participate in a pilot study to see if an innovative Facebook web app can help provide much-needed support to unpaid caregivers of people with Alzheimer's.

People interested in participating in the six-week study are asked to go to alzgroup.iu.edu to learn more about the pilot study and how to participate. Because the study takes place online, participants may reside anywhere.

There is no cost to participate, and those selected will use a social microvolunteering web app that was specially designed for use in Facebook for this study. Participants will meet in small Facebook groups to decide on caregiving questions that they would like answered through the use of the web app.

Members of the Facebook groups will include caregivers and a researcher. The researchers will post prompts and moderate the discussion. As a starting point, volunteers will introduce themselves in a post to other members of the group and explain why they joined and what they hope to get out of it.

Members of the support group will be able to post questions, thoughts or requests for help, and other members of the group can respond. For the first two weeks, the research team will post predetermined questions. In the last four weeks, the support group will decide on the questions themselves. Questions could range from asking for advice on how to deal with a relative who won't stop driving even though they have Alzheimer's to asking about emotional support. The questions developed by the group will be delivered through the social microvolunteering app to the larger Facebook community.

After six weeks, the participants will be asked to reflect on whether the support group helped them and how it could be improved.

If successful, the application could be an asset to any number of the 15 million unpaid caregivers who are taking care of loved ones with Alzheimer's disease. While estimates show that these caregivers provide more than 17 billion hours of care, providing such care comes with its own risks. Studies have shown that caregivers have higher rates of depression, anxiety, insomnia and cardiovascular disease.

The project is part of a $29,000 grant from the Regenstrief Institute and was obtained by the research team composed of Dr. Daniel Bateman, a geriatric psychiatrist with the IU School of Medicine and the IU Center for Aging Research; Erin Brady, an assistant professor and researcher at the IUPUI School of Informatics and Computing; and David Wilkerson, an assistant professor and researcher with the IU School of Social Work at IUPUI.

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