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Millions of Americans are family caregivers. A nationwide support group aims to help them

How the pandemic impacted family caregivers
How the pandemic allowed caregivers to get some of the help they needed 06:45

An estimated 38 million Americans are family caregivers. Among them is former minister Jim Meadows, who went from helping his entire community to focusing his efforts on his wife, Georgie, who has Alzheimer's. 

As Meadows cared for his wife, he soon realized he also needed help. The family caregiving work done by Meadows and millions of other Americans is valued at about $600 billion a year, but they pay the price in pain, loneliness, and stress. 

"I think it's hard to for men to admit that they need help in any any kind of situation, and also this sense that we're taught to be able to fix things," Meadows said. 

It can be hard for caregivers to find support or connect with other caregivers, but all that changed during the coronavirus pandemic. Duet, a decades-old organization based out of Phoenix, Arizona, is devoted to supporting family caregivers, and as the world locked down to slow the spread of COVID-19, it transferred its support groups online, making them available to a whole new audience.

"We realized that we had work to do to better serve the people we intend to serve, they can't all just make it to us. So we had to figure out how to make it to them," explained Ann Wheat, the director of Duet. "We think of it as a virtual community, for these family caregivers." 

For Meadows, joining a Duet support group meant finally finding people who understood what he was going through. The online support groups also reached places like Berryville, Arkansas, a town of just 5,000 where there are few resources for family caregivers like Cynthia Morin, who cares for her husband who has dementia. 

A child interacts with a relative. CBS Saturday Morning

"Many times, it starts to feel like you're in this alone," Morin said. With Duet, she found that advice and new friends were just a Zoom call away, which she said helped her get through the day "without losing it." 

Wheat said that since the world has opened up again, Duet has continued to expand. The organization now has trained facilitators in 15 states, in Canada, and on the Navajo Nation, which she said shows that the group's model "works in the most remote isolated settings imaginable." 

Linda Roddy, who attended an in-person group, said that giving fellow caregivers a helping hand has been an important mission.

"I've touched people all over the country, which has been really powerful, both for me as a caregiver and being part of it, but also just supporting others on this journey because it's so misunderstood," Roddy said. "I feel what they're going through, and I think that's powerful, rather than just being an outsider." 

The online programs also still operate. Duet sends out video seminars from Dr. Pauline Boss, a pioneer researcher in the field of grief and family stress. Boss focuses on explaining the sensation of ambiguous loss, where a person is physically present but psychologically absent, which can leave family members or caretakers without any closure. 

Morin said in addition to the support group, the seminars helped ease the fear and guilt that once haunted her. Her husband, Tom, died a year ago, but the group has helped her understand she did all she could for him. 

"There were times that I was afraid. There were other people that were afraid. There were times that I was exasperated and ready to get out. Here were other people who had had these problems, too," Morin said. "So it gave me a little more courage to be able to face what might be coming for me." 

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