It’s as simple as saying, “I need help.” And help is at hand. From one side of you or the other, someone will reach out and provide a reassuring squeeze or touch. That’s the best reason for attending a support group when you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease.
Recently, I was the guest speaker at an Alzheimer’s support group that gathers each month in Tatamagouche, NS. My mother came with me because we share a similar caregiving experience; when we arrived shortly before the 1:30 meeting time, I was directed to the speaker’s seat at the top of a large table in the board room.
So I’m sitting there watching as every person who comes into the room gets hugged and I realize this two-year-old group must be special. Sometimes, caring for a spouse with Alzheimer’s can mean the only real heart-to-heart bear hug you get comes from a good and trusted friend.
The co-facilitator who invited me, Inez Daye, says that complete confidentiality is assured, which is where the trust comes in since the conversations can be very personal.
Every meeting begins with the round table: Each person gets a chance to speak about what is happening in their life. The stories range from the need for constant vigilance about the stove to a parent’s resistance to accept help to how difficult grandchildren find visiting their grandparent in a nursing home. Some talk about feeling overwhelmed by everything they have to do (which reminded me of my mother describing the taking care of a spouse with Alzheimer’s as “thinking for two”) while others have a hard time dealing with feelings of guilt.
As a person speaks, the others listen. When the person asks a question or expresses doubt or fear, the advice and comments offered are supportive and insightful. Everyone is warm and genuine and caring. Everyone understands. Everyone is going through their own struggles yet they are able to reach out and provide empathy and encouragement to a dozen friends.
It’s not selfish for caregivers to take these couple of hours for themselves.
“Unless you’re giving good care to yourself, you can’t give good care to someone else,” points out Inez Daye.
Granted, the success of a support group relies on the mix of people who attend and their attitudes. The members of this group come with a positive energy and outlook that is uplifting and encouraging – exactly what a struggling caregiver needs to bring him or her back to balance and hope.
Particularly in rural areas, support groups can be a lifeline for a caregiver who is trying to manage on her own.
“This was a support I didn’t know existed,” a woman who cares for her husband said. She praised the support of the group, saying the stories of others give her benchmarks for where she and her husband are compared to other people. She added that there is a great difference between where she is now compared to when she first came to the group.
What she means is that she is doing better, feeling less alone and overwhelmed and scared, because she has a support group to attend. Not only that, she knows that in a crisis, she could call someone from this group.
You want to know what happens when an Alzheimer’s support group really gets it right? Two people who haven’t been caregivers for four years want to go to the next meeting -- and they’re not even the hugging kind. They want to help others by sharing what they learned from their own experience.
The group meets the second Thursday of every month at 1:30 pm at Willow Lodge in Tatamagouche. For more information about a support group in your area, call the Alzheimer Society at 1-800-611-6345.
|Those who agreed to be in a photo gather in the board room's kitchenette|
where the nursing home always leave tea, coffee and cookies for the group.