Alzheimer’s disease can cause many challenges that impact all aspects of life for people with the disease and their family caregivers. Often, the person with Alzheimer’s disease may repeat the same question, have trouble talking, or even have difficulty recognizing their loved ones. Family caregivers often need to take on new roles such as managing finances and personal affairs, and making difficult treatment decisions.
The good news is that there is a place where people with Alzheimer’s and their caregivers can turn – Alzheimer’s support groups.
Support groups can be a great resource for both the person with Alzheimer’s disease and their family caregivers.
“I think that support groups are one of the most dynamic sources of connection, hope, education, and resources for people who are living with challenging health conditions. Each member has an opportunity to both give and receive, creating a lifelong bond and circle of support,” says Chris Kelly, Director of Learning and Development at Griswold Home Care, who has facilitated Alzheimer’s support groups for many years.
To learn more, read on:
What is a support group?
Support groups are not formal therapy or counseling sessions, but rather a gathering of people who share a common health concern or interest. They are often lead by a layperson with personal experience, or a professional who has interest and experience with providing support related to a challenging health condition.
Some Alzheimer’s support groups are formal meetings, with an agenda and minutes, while others are informal gatherings that bring people together simply to talk. Most support groups are free; some ask for donations to support their group expenses and programs.
What happens in a support group?
Support group members exchange practical tips and information, talk through challenges and coping strategies, share feels and concerns, and exchange helpful resources. Many members find that the support group is a great way to get answers to their questions, as well as get support from people who have “been there and done that”.
Who attends support groups?
Support groups are attended by people who are living with Alzheimer’s disease, family caregivers, and friends. There are also specialty groups for people who are dealing with early-stage Alzheimer’s, early-onset Alzheimer’s, or other forms of dementia.
Where can I find a support group?
Interested in joining a support group? Most non-profit organizations such as the Alzheimer’s Association and the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America offer support group listings by state or county. Your local Area Agency on Aging, newspapers, hospitals, and religious organizations may also have listings for support groups. In-person support groups generally meet at a set location and time each week or month. There are also online support groups that allow you to connect with others from the comfort of your home.
What if I’m not comfortable talking and sharing private information?
At first, you might find it difficult to speak up and share your experiences in a group. Generally, support groups understand this, and there will be no pressure on new members to participate. Attend a few meetings just to listen and learn.
Over time, you might feel like you want to contribute. If something comes up in the group that you can relate to, that is often a great way to join the discussion. Both giving and receiving support is the beauty of support groups, so remember that others will value your words just as you value theirs. If you don’t feel comfortable in a group after attending a few meetings, let the facilitator know. The group might not be right for you, but there are many other groups you can try.
Remember, support groups can be a great source of strength as well as practical information.
Says Bridget, a family caregiver, “When you are caring for someone with Alzheimer’s disease, having people who understand what you are going through and people who can offer you advice makes all the difference. It becomes a source of hope and you develop a family-like feeling and strong bond. I could not have made it through the caregiving process without the help of our support group.”
For more information, please review our Alzheimer’s Disease & Dementia Resources.
Have you been to a support group before? What do you think was the most beneficial part?