The Internet as Social Support for Older Carers of Adults With Intellectual Disabilities


Elizabeth Perkins, PhD RNMH, Florida Center for Inclusive Communities/UCEDD, Department of Child and Family Studies, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences, University of South Florida, 13301 Bruce B. Downs Blvd., MHC 2113A, Tampa, FL 33612, USA. Tel: +1 813 970 7076; E-mail:


Social support is a potentially powerful mediator of well-being for family carers. Given that social engagement often decreases with age, the Internet broadens the opportunities for aging carers of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) to provide support to one another. This article reviews what constitutes social support, its importance to older adults, and more specifically carers of those with I/DD. Computer and Internet usage by older adults is briefly reviewed. The Internet as a medium for facilitating social support and support groups for carers is discussed. The role of the Internet in the lives of people with I/DD is also briefly reviewed. The literature review, compiled from a literature search of PubMed, Science Direct, PsycInfo, OvidSP, and CINAHL databases, revealed that there is a relative paucity of information regarding support on the Internet for aging carers, particularly for aging carers for people with I/DD. The review also revealed the utility of the Internet to be utilized as a medium for social support groups. The authors noted that aging adults can acquire new technological abilities and cognitive benefits when learning new skills. Both older adults and individuals with I/DD benefit when web sites are attentive to layout and usability. The authors suggest that Internet-based aging carer support groups that also incorporate educational content should be developed. Although many research questions remain about the design of Internet-based carer groups, web sites that appeal to both carers and individuals with I/DD for peer support and information are interesting avenues for further investigation.