This is Part 1 of 2 in a series written by Linda Abbit, Community Outreach Manager, Alzheimer’s Family Center.
While I was a family caregiver for my mom who had Alzheimer’s disease, one of the best steps I took was to become a regular member of a caregiver support group.
Whenever I faced a new caregiving challenge, had care questions, or just needed to vent, I knew the people there would help in whatever ways they could. Sharing the ups and downs of caregiving together created a unique bond and made me recognize I didn’t have to go through this difficult part of life alone.
Here are six reasons you should consider joining a dementia caregivers support group:
Whatever topics are brought up, the leader (sometimes called a facilitator) will be knowledgeable about them. And, if they don’t have an answer to a specific question immediately, they are ready and willing to research it and get back to you with answers and/or resources. They might call you individually and/or report back to the whole group at the next meeting. Other members will also share their knowledge with you about topics being discussed.
This is one of the best reasons to attend a caregivers’ support group! It’s very common when facing any problem or obstacle to feel that we’re alone or that no one understands exactly what we’re going through. Wrong! All of the participants are in the midst of caregiving. You can let it “all hang out” with people going through something similar to what you’re experiencing. They truly understand the ups and downs of caring for someone with memory loss.
A good support group leader encourages members to help each other, and brainstorming is a great way to do this. When someone brings up a challenge they’re facing, it’s beneficial for everyone to come up with new tips, strategies and/or ideas. Role playing also helps members prepare for difficult conversations they may be planning to have with their loved ones.
Support group members will often be familiar with, and can recommend, community resources. No one person can possibly know all of the local caregiving service providers out there. It’s also wise to hear other people’s feedback about services they’ve used personally, including both the positives and negatives.
Some support group members connect at meetings, exchange phone numbers and keep in touch between meetings. People who live in close proximity may start carpooling to meetings and/or going out for coffee or a meal afterwards to continue the discussions . . . or just have some fun! Some caregivers even start an informal respite cooperative. They take turns watching the other person’s care recipient so their friend can take a break or run some errands for a few hours. It’s similar to a babysitting cooperative when raising children, but for caregivers. Making long-lasting friendships was an added and unexpected bonus I received when I joined my first support group many years ago!
Paying it forward
Some people continue to attend a support group even after their dementia caregiving journey is over. “Veterans” have good information and life experiences to share with newcomers in any support group. I respect the commitment by these members to continue to help others, as other veterans had done for them. I’ve seen widows, widowers and adult children come to caregiver support group meetings after their loved ones have passed away to share that very difficult stage of caregiving with the group, while receiving lots of love and caring in return. It provided closure to them, and to us.
For all of these reasons, I hope you will consider attending a caregivers’ support group in the near future.
Alzheimer’s Family Center holds dementia caregiver support groups on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month from 6:00 pm to 7:30 pm. No RSVP required. Please call 714-593-9630 for more information.
Photo credit: Les Cunliffe – Fotolia