We recommend family members attend support groups because of the knowledge gained and comfort received from them. No matter what the physical or cognitive disease your loved one has, you can find a support group that addresses it and the challenges you face. By attending, you gain different perspectives from others going through similar issues, and come away with hope and fortitude.
Why Join a Family Caregivers Support Group?
- Education: Whatever the support group topic is, the leader (sometimes called a facilitator) will be knowledgeable about it. They should also be ready, willing and able to research questions they might not have the answers to 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 you’re alone or that no one understands what you’re going through. NOT!! And a family caregivers support group illustrates this in spades. All of the members are in the midst of caregiving. You can “let it all hang out” with people going through something very similar to what you’re 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. Role playing at meetings also helps members prepare in advance for difficult talks they plan to have 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. One person can’t possibly know all of the local health care 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: Support group members connect at 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 go out for coffee or a meal afterwards to continue the discussion . . . or just have some fun! Some caregivers who met in a support group started a respite cooperative between them. They take turns watching the other person’s care recipient so the caregiver gets a break or can run some errands, etc. It’s like a babysitting cooperative, but for caregivers. Making long-lasting friendships is an added and unexpected bonus.
- 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 to a support group. Members appreciate the commitment by these people to help and share with others. Widows, widowers and adult 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 receive lots of love and caring in return.
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. There is a support group that is right for you, so try different groups until you find it!
Give a support group meeting more than one chance. Attend at least two meetings before crossing a group off your “potential” list. Make sure your first impression is valid, even if it wasn’t necessarily a positive one. What’s an extra hour or two 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 every month 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. Your attendance may ebb and flow like waves. If things are on an even keel, you may not have the need to attend, but then a new challenge or pressing questions arise and you need to return to your support group again.
Support Groups Online vs. In Real Life?
Online support groups are growing in popularity. Getting to “know” people from all over the world is certainly fun and gratifying through an internet connection. But there is still something about face-to-face communication that has online interactions beat by a mile!
Plus, you can’t squeeze someone’s hand or hug someone online, and these gestures are an important aspect of many support groups! Especially as caregivers, we can always use more hugs! 🙂
For all of these reasons, we hope you’ll attend a support group meeting for family caregivers in the near future!