Six Reasons to Join a Family Caregivers Support Group
I am a huge proponent of support groups because I’ve learned so much and received comfort by attending them over the past 15 years. For the last three years I’ve also been a support group leader, and my life is enriched by listening to the people who attend my groups each month.
My first support group experience was in 1996 when I became a member of a breast cancer survivors’ support group. Shortly after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I started going to meetings, asking questions, and listening carefully to the survivors there. They gave me knowledge, different perspectives, and lots of hope. The experiences these women shared were very valuable, and helped me make decisions about what treatment options to select.
The next support group I attended was with my father in 2001 and it was for spouses of Alzheimer disease patients. I went because I thought he’d get something out of it, plus I thought I’d learn something too. But, just like many men of the older generation, he didn’t care for the experience, and we stopped going after several meetings. I still felt I could use a support group as my mom’s disease progressed, so I found and went to one specifically geared for adult children of Alzheimer’s disease patients. There really are support groups that exist for nearly every challenge people face!
Six Reasons for Joining a Support Group
- Education: Whatever the support group topic is, the leader (sometimes called the facilitator) will be knowledgeable about it. They should also be ready, willing and able to research questions they might not have the answer for immediately and get the answers to you after the meeting via phone or email. Alternatively, they can report back to the whole group at the next meeting. The other members will share their own caregiving experiences and knowledge, too.
- Empathy: This is one of the best reasons to attend a caregiving support group! It’s very common when facing any problem or obstacle to feel that we’re alone or that no one understands what we’re going through. NOT!! And a support group illustrates this in spades. All of the members, as well as the leader, are in the midst of caregiving. You can let it all hang out with people going through something similar to what you are experiencing. They truly understand your ups and downs.
- Brainstorming: A good support group leader encourages members to help each other, and brainstorming is a great way to do this. When someone mentions a challenge they are facing, it’s beneficial to get tips, strategies and new ideas on how to deal with whatever you are having a hard time with. At one meeting, we used role playing to help members prepare in advance for difficult talks they will be having with their care recipients.
- Resources: Often a support group leader and its members will be familiar with, and recommend, other community resources that can assist you in multiple ways. No one person can possibly know all of the local caregiving service providers out there — and more are starting up every day. It’s also good to hear other people’s feedback on services they’ve used, both pros and cons.
- Friendship: I’ve seen support group members connect during meetings, and then exchange phone numbers to keep in touch between meetings. Often members who live in close proximity start carpooling to meetings and/or going out for coffee or a meal afterwards to continue the discussion . . . or just have some fun! Some caregivers in my support group have started a respite cooperative between them. They take turns watching the other person’s care recipient so the member gets a break or can run some errands, etc. It’s like a babysitting cooperative, but for caregivers. Making long-lasting friendships was an added and unexpected bonus I received when I joined my first support group back in 1996! Priceless.
- Paying it forward: Many times people continue to attend a support group even after their issue/health concern/stage of life is over or resolved. “Veterans” have lots of good information and life experiences to share with newcomers in any support group. As a leader, I value the commitment by these people to help and share with others as other veterans may have done for them. I’ve seen widows, widowers and 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, and receiving lots of love and caring in return. It provided closure to them, and to us.
Selecting a Support Group
It is smart to “shop” for a support group that you feel comfortable with, from the physical setting, to the demographic of the membership, to the leader’s style as well as the meeting format. I’ve been in rooms that felt cold and were not a good fit for me. I’ve been to groups that were OK, but not great. There is a support group that is right for you, so keep going to different groups until you find it!
Give a support group meeting more than one chance. I would attend at least two meetings before I crossed a group off my “potential” list. You want to be sure your first impression was valid, even if it wasn’t necessarily a positive one. What’s an extra hour of your life when it could lead to a great long-term experience if given another chance? Other people find they enjoy going to multiple support groups regularly because each one offers something different than another — which is also an excellent strategy!
Don’t feel you have to go to every meeting to gain value from the group. My attendance at the adult children of Alzheimer’s disease patients support group went in waves. There were months I couldn’t wait to go, but then my mom’s cognitive decline would reach a certain level, things were at an even keel, and I wouldn’t attend a meeting for a month or two because I didn’t feel I had any pressing questions or issues. I returned again when the need arose.
Support Groups Online vs. In Real Life?
I’ve been involved in a different online communities and online forums since 2006. While getting to “know” people from all over the world online is certainly fun and gratifying, I’ve learned the best part of these connections is meeting the people in person! There is still something about face-to-face communication that has online interactions beat by a mile! This goes for support groups, too.
Plus, you can’t hug someone online, and hugs are an important aspect of many support groups! And especially as caregivers, we can always use more hugs! 🙂 For that reason (Hugs are #7) and all those given above, I hope you’ll attend a support group meeting for caregivers in the near future!
Have you been to a caregiver support group? Support groups for other issues? Are you a regular member of one? What have you gained through participating in them? Please share your experience with us in the comments section below.
Photo Credit: Dee-lite’s photostream