When a loved one is diagnosed with dementia the focus is on their needs, but family caregivers will also need support.
Support for family caregivers who are helping a loved one with dementia need emotional support as well as eating right and getting enough rest. Finding or creating a system of support can relieve a lot of the grief and distress that comes with living with dementia.
What Is a Support Group?
A group of people who meet regularly to support one another through various emotional and life struggles can provide much needed care for the caregivers. Support groups meet on a regular basis (weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, etc.), and are usually structured as drop-in events. The groups are usually small enough so that each member has the opportunity to meet and get to know other members, as well as share their own personal experiences. Support groups are typically directed by a predetermined, trained leader.
Alzheimer’s support groups range from general to stage-specific (early, moderate and severe Alzheimer’s), and can be focused around certain beliefs or groups of individuals (faith-based, caregiver-focused, etc.). Joining a support group can be a way for a family caregiver to learn from others who have had similar experiences.
How Can Support Groups Help?
Family and friends who have not known anyone with dementia may not be able to provide enough insight or understanding as your loved one goes through the journey of dementia. Whereas, a support group might be a safe haven for someone share distress and grief, and gain new knowledge and coping skills.
One member of an Alzheimer’s Association-run support group shared their experience. “I don’t have to pretend everything is all right, or even that I’m coping well. Sometimes I struggle, I get angry or I can’t stop crying. People in my support group understand what I’m going through.” Another noted, “Each meeting has been such a relaxing and informative experience. I always leave feeling that I can make it through the next day.”
In addition, practical advice, insight and comfort may be found in a support group as loved ones experiences a range of emotions and stress.
The Value of Community
The old adage, “Strength in numbers” might apply to caring for someone with dementia as it is too much for one person to take on alone, and a support system is imperative for the health of the family caregiver and the person with dementia. Creating a network of support gives the family care giver someone to confide in — and that someone will know what it’s like.
Although attending a support group has the potential to be helpful, you might have reservations. You may be nervous that you won’t find the right group for you, or that your schedule doesn’t allow the time for a support group — or you may be downright fearful about opening up and exposing your feelings to a group of new people.
To find the right support group for your unique situation and set of needs, first start by searching for groups that are convenient to your location and schedule. Many churches, community centers and hospitals host support groups, so chances are there’s one in your area. And, most are scheduled during evenings and on weekends, around working hours. Once you’ve found a support group that’s convenient, don’t feel bad if it doesn’t feel right. Try and try again — there will be a group that’s perfect for you.
Anger, grief, despair, frustration, and exhaustion are common feelings and experiences family caregivers have. Many people do not have a safe place that is free of judgment to share these feelings, and a support group can be that safe and supportive place.
If you are coping with a loved one suffering from Alzheimer’s, you are not alone. According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 5.3 million Americans have Alzheimer’s disease, and every 70 seconds, someone in America develops Alzheimer’s. With the increasing prevalence of this disease, support groups are more readily available than ever. If you’re ready to seek support, visit the Alzheimer’s Association Web site, where you can search for local offices and Alzheimer’s services by zip code.
It can be daunting for a family member to open up and become vulnerable to the waves of emotions associated with coping with Alzheimer’s. Support groups can help you stay strong in times of weakness, help you handle grief, manage stress, and provide a safe place for you to find much-needed encouragement.
For more information about support groups, or to locate one near you, please visit the Alzheimer's Association.