By Micha Shalev
Caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease impacts every aspect of daily life. As Alzheimer’s patients lose one ability after another, caregivers face tests of stamina, problem solving and resiliency. During this long and difficult journey, communication diminishes, rewards decrease, and without strong support, caretakers face challenges to their wellbeing.
Maintaining emotional and physical fitness is crucial. Preparing and protecting yourself, working to understand your loved one’s experience, and embracing help from others can minimize the hazards and enhance the joys of your caregiving experience.
The purpose of an Alzheimer’s support group is to offer individuals support and information that is specific to dementia. Some Alzheimer’s Association chapters have specialized support groups, such as: early stage groups, groups for adolescents, male care partners, adult children caring for a parent and care partners dealing with late stage issues.
An Alzheimer’s Association affiliated support group can be made up of care partners, family members and loved ones of those with Alzheimer’s disease or a related dementia. Although members of the support group begin as strangers, they quickly become friends and, in a sense, a family.
The support group leaders may be a community member and/or a health care professional. The meetings may focus on emotional support and sharing experiences, or they may focus on education, with experts speaking on topics such as legal issues, nutrition, caregiving techniques and community resources.
The number of participants will vary, in some cases depending on the format. For instance, educational groups are usually larger. However, the ideal size for a support group is six to 24 members.
Support groups that are sponsored by the Alzheimer’s Association are open to the public and free of charge. The groups depend on the chapters they are affiliated with to provide resources such as literature, updates on legislation and research and newsletters. Alzheimer’s Association chapters serve larger areas than the support groups and they provide resources to the community as well.
Alzheimer’s Association support groups encourage members to share information, give and receive mutual support and exchange coping skills with one another. Support group members share practical suggestions for caring based on their caregiving experiences. Caring for an individual with dementia requires different techniques than those needed to care for someone who is not cognitively impaired.
Experienced care partners have found that some methods of providing care, ideas that may not be found in books or articles, can make caregiving easier. Sharing those ideas in a support group can prevent care partners from having to re-invent the wheel.
Attending a support group is often difficult at first. It takes time to feel comfortable sharing your problems with people you do not know. However, the experience of many individuals is that once they open up, they find that their problems are not so different from those of other support group members. By sharing with others in the same situation a person can feel less alone.
If you are having difficulty talking to family or friends about your feelings, you may find that it is easier to express yourself in a support group, where you can be honest with others who are facing similar problems. Through participation, you will be better prepared and perhaps feel less devastated as your loved one’s condition becomes worse. You also may be able to find some hope from seeing that others who have been caring longer have survived the caregiving experience.
If you attend a group and it doesn’t feel right for you, you can always try another group.
Micha Shalev, MHA, is the owner of Dodge Park Rest Home at 101 Randolph Road in Worcester. The facility is holding two free support group meetings a month for spouses and children of individuals with dementia and/or Alzheimer’s disease. He can be reached at 508-853-8180 or by e-mail at email@example.com or view more information online at www.dodgepark.com. Archives of articles from previous issues can be read at www.fiftyplusadvocate.com.