Caregiving support groups – What is the point?

 Laurie Ray, MSW, CMSW, C-ASWCM

Caregiver Support Groups

Caregiving is a stressful and difficult responsibility that most of us do out of love and commitment to those we are caring for. We may perceive our role caring for a spouse or family member as a responsibility, expected without exception. Others may become caregivers out of obligation or often necessity due to the lack of finances or others who can help out.

 

For a wife who has always cared for her husband there is no question that she will be his caregiver as she knows him best.  When we factor in the varying generational perspectives of our mothers and grandmothers who were the epitome of homemakers, caregiving is just another given responsibility. Allowing someone else into the home to cook, clean, or to “manage” things would be considered unnecessary and almost offensive.

Reasons to not admit to caregiver stress may be:

  • a weakness
  • a private matter
  • sharing feelings with others as complaining
  • it is my job
  • no one will understand
  • I don’t have the time
  • I can’t leave my loved one

What to expect in a support group

So what happens in a support group? When we sit down with others in similar situations we find that what goes on behind closed doors may not be all that unusual,  that tips and tricks learned from others may be worth trying, we hear about resources that we didn’t know existed, and we soon realize that we are not alone trying to cope and manage life as a caregiver. Spouse, child, or friend. The relationship itself certainly is a factor in caregiving but there are many parallels and similarities despite your relationship with your loved one.

 

Never been to a support group?  Your thoughts may run rampant thinking about who might be there.  Will you be forced to share anything? Can you escape if needed? Yes, support groups provide the opportunity to share feelings, concerns, and fears, but they are not the stereotypical setting of TV’s Bob Newhart’s group where the members often had a psychiatric diagnosis, bizarre habits, and un-relatable experiences.  Support groups are typically led by lay people who have had personal experiences with the group topic, or are trained professionals. Caregiving support groups are not a setting where a psychiatrist or psychologist observe or diagnose. The discussions are confidential. “What is shared in group, stays in group”. They are a safe space to discuss what challenges you may be facing, and often find that both the support and understanding of others may be a strong motivating force to return monthly to care for others while taking care of yourself.

 

But – in order to care for a loved one you must also care yourself. Sitting down with others who understand the stress can be incredibly beneficial. Caregiving support groups are not the “touchy-feely” groups of years gone by, they are opportunities to learn from the experiences of others. You may soon realize that your thoughts and reactions to situations may be normal, and in time you may come to understand that you are not alone on this caregiving journey.  It is an ideal time to briefly step away from your role and take care of yourself.

 

There is much to be said for hearing about another group member’s month of caregiving, the lows and highs, and new challenges. Finding the humor in caregiving is also an important part of group. As stressful as caregiving may be there are often funny stories to share and sharing an understanding chuckle with others is very valuable.

Where to find support groups 

If you are now ready to consider checking out or trying out a support group the new challenge may be in finding a group that best meets your needs. It is worth starting out with your local council on aging for a list of caregiver support groups. Speak with your physicians who may be aware of disease specific groups. National associations such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, Multiple Sclerosis, and ALS are able to provide lists or connections to local support groups. If you are living in a retirement community check-in with the activities or wellness staff. Checkout the local senior center as they often provide several group options

 

The choice is yours.  The point is finding a common ground with others who can understand and relate to your caregiving experiences.  It is worth taking the risk. It will be beneficial to you and others as you share wisdom and understanding.

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