“Support groups a lifesaver for caregivers”

This is a good article from the Herald-Tribune (heraldtribune.com) about support groups being a “lifesaver” for caregivers.  Brain Support Network coordinates a caregiver-only support group in the San Francisco Bay Area for Lewy Body Dementia, Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, Multiple System Atrophy, and Corticobasal Degeneration.  Here’s the Herald-Tribune article as to why you should join!




Support groups a lifesaver for caregivers
by Paula Falk, correspondent
Posted Tuesday, Jul 12, 2011 at 12:01 AM

In the sometimes crazy, often exhausting and overwhelming world of caregiving, finding a safe place to share, occasionally vent and figure out what to do next isn’t always easy.
A support group can help hold life together when everything around you seems to be unraveling.

Without support, the impact of caregiving on one’s health can be devastating. It has been estimated that more than 60 percent of caregivers predecease their loved ones. As one long-term attendee of our support group at Senior Friendship Centers observed:

“Do you notice that individuals in our group are still here? I think one of the reasons is because we come to this support group. The support we receive here, the strategies we learn, the strength we gain to move forward and make decisions, all have an impact on our health and well being.”

What to expect: There are two rules in most support groups: personal information is confidential and one person talks at a time. People are given a chance to talk about their situation, and are never pressured to share anything if they feel uncomfortable doing so. Typically, new people tell something about themselves and their caregiving situation, and members of the group ask questions about the challenges they’re facing, what they need and what they are doing to get through it.

You’re not alone: You learn that you’re not the only one having trouble coping. Other members of the group listen and offer solutions. You are encouraged to take bits and pieces from the “experts” around the room who have been through many of the same experiences you’re facing, and to use what works for you. No one judges. When somebody is telling their story for the first time, you will see others nodding to indicate they have had a similar experience.

Your feelings count: “When people say “how are you?” they genuinely want to know how you are, instead of focusing only on your loved one,” as one participant said. All too often it can be easy for the caregiver’s needs and identity to get lost in the process of caring for another.

Taking action: As trust grows, people in the group become accountable to each other and often encourage one another to move forward to find solutions. Together, they help identify options, provide support, build confidence to make decisions, and take action.

For example, one couple attending a group hadn’t had a vacation or time to themselves for over a year. Their mother was in a facility being cared for, but they couldn’t imagine going away for even a day, let alone taking a trip, because they felt they needed to be there for her all the time. The group pointed out that she was well cared for, and it was OK to give themselves permission to care for themselves. It was a tremendous relief to them.

Healthy choices: Sometimes communication can be especially tough for men and for people who internalize stress. Finding a safe place to share feelings is important. We’re finding that more and more men are reaching out and joining support groups to ease the emotional and physical toll caregiving can take on their lives.

Note: Support groups specific to the disease your loved one has been diagnosed with are especially beneficial. There are support groups for Alzheimer’s, cancer, Parkinson’s, stroke and other diseases. Information is available through local organizations serving these diseases as well as through Senior Friendship Centers Caregiver Resource Center.

Paula Falk, the director of the Caregiver Resource Center (CRC) and Adult Day Service Program at The Living Room at Senior Friendship Centers’ Sarasota campus, writes a monthly column for Health + Fitness. The Caregiver Resource Center is a community collaboration bringing together agencies and businesses offering services and products to help caregivers. For more information, call 556-3270, email [email protected], or visit www.friendshipcenters.org.