Family caregivers – adults who are providing unpaid care to a senior individual – are not an unusual phenomenon. In fact, it’s estimated that more than 45 million Americans are a caregiver to one or more older individuals. 16 million of these individuals are caring for an older adult with dementia like Alzheimer’s disease. Obviously, these people are not alone in their experiences…but for many, it can feel like no one can understand what they’re going through.
“Anytime we go through a stressful or overwhelming situation in our life, it’s easy to become disconnected and even isolated,” says Andrea Campisi, Marketing and Admissions Director of The Reutlinger Community, a Continuing Care Retirement Community in Danville, CA. And very few things in life, she says, are as stressful as caregiving someone with dementia. It’s a 24/7 job with no holiday time or sick leave, which makes for one tired individual who’s neglecting to care for someone very important…themselves.
That’s why, says Andrea, joining a caregiver support group is practically essential for caregivers. “Although it may at first seem like just one more thing to do, the benefits of joining a group far outweigh the extra time it takes to attend a meeting. Think of it like exercising, eating a healthy diet or getting a good night’s sleep – support groups are just one more facet of a balanced, wellness-focused lifestyle.”
What Is a Support Group?
A support group is a meeting of individuals who are all experiencing the same life event or situation, such as the death of a spouse, surviving cancer or, in your case, caregiving for someone with dementia. They can take many forms, from a traditional “sit in a circle and someone leads a discussion” type of group to an online-only forum where people post and respond to messages on the board or do a live chat. They can be large (although it’s usually kept to a manageable size so everyone’s voice is heard), or they can be as small as two or three people. The nice part with all this flexibility and variety means it’s easier than ever for caregivers to find a group that has the right vibe and approach for them.
Seven Benefits of Joining a Support Group
It provides a network of social support.
One of the biggest reasons why support groups can be so beneficial to caregivers is that you’re instantly among individuals who are there to provide a social network. It’s not unusual for people to form fast and strong friendships with others in the group due to shared experiences. This can be a comfort for caregivers who haven’t been able to reach out to friends and family for support for one reason or another, or who have simply had to become more isolated due to the task of caring for their loved one.
Support groups provide validation, understanding and a listening ear – and, often, advice. You’ll find that support groups are made up of people who are at various different stages of their caregiving journey, which can be a huge boon when it comes to getting information, learning about resources or simply asking, “is it normal for me to be doing/feeling/acting this way?”
It reduces stress and depression.
Heightened stress for long periods of time is not good for the human body. When we’re not able to relax and give ourselves breathing room, we experience all sorts of unwanted and potentially dangerous side effects, like high blood pressure, mood swings, depression and other mental issues. It’s very hard to relax if you feel like you’re not being understood, are alone in your struggle or are feeling judged by others. Joining a support group will instantly place you in a group of others just like you who are there for the purpose of helping each other. Plus, going to a support group allows you to get away from your responsibilities for an hour or so, which allows you to focus on your needs, resulting in less stress and a happier caregiver.
You gain a sense of control of your situation.
Dementia is a progressive disease, but it’s not a predictable one. What worked yesterday to keep your loved one safe and happy may not work at all today. Your loved one may suddenly start acting in a way that seems completely out of the blue. By talking with other caregivers and learning what to expect or anticipate with the disease, you’ll be able to better weather the storms and react to difficult issues. It also helps you understand that there’s no one way you should be doing/thinking/feeling, which can be very freeing to those who worry about doing things “right.”
You gain invaluable information and advice.
Oftentimes, support groups will also experts to speak at the meetings so the event is educational as well as supportive or social. These experts are a great way to get treatment options, advice on caregiving and advances that are being made in medical research. Informally, you can get caregiving tips from others in the group who are dealing with or who have dealt with the same issue you’re experiencing.
You learn self-care skills.
Being able to cope with everything life is throwing at you and finding ways to do nice things for yourself – however small – will greatly improve your quality of life. This includes taking time for yourself, like reading a book or calling a friend, but it also includes coping skills like practicing mindfulness, allowing yourself grace and giving permission to say “I don’t know.” Think of these things like little gifts you can give yourself to help reduce your stress and worry.
It helps you understand what to expect down the road.
Since dementia is a progressive disease, you know that your loved one will continue to decline. Talking with others and finding out how they handled or approached that will give you a vision for what lies ahead and how to prepare. Surprisingly, this can help people feel less stressed about the future, because they won’t be taken by surprise by different behaviors or actions from their loved one.
It improves your caregiving skills.
It sounds trite, but it’s true: support groups give you the support you need in order to be a better caregiver for your loved one. You simply can’t be the best caregiver possible if you aren’t caring for yourself. By finding the support, information and assurance you need to feel more confident and healthy, you’ll be more refreshed and able to give your loved one with dementia the care he or she needs and deserves.
For more information about support groups for dementia caregivers, or to learn more about our community, mission and values, please contact us at 925-272-0261.
Premier Senior Living, Dedicated Care
The Reutlinger Community’s mission is to provide high quality health care and social support services in a life-enhancing and stimulating environment with a commitment to Jewish values.
Offering Assisted Living, Enhanced Assisted Living, Memory Care, Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation, The Reutlinger Community provides a continuum of care that allows seniors to live a life-enhancing and stimulating environment. Located in Danville, California, The Reutlinger Community’s newly renovated, 110,000 square foot community combines the comfort and familiarity of home with seasoned senior care and skilled nursing specialists to suit any senior’s needs, allowing them to live the life they choose with freedom and security.
Because we specialize in a continuum of care, our residents never need to worry about leaving the community they call home or wonder what will happen when they need some more care. Residents and families alike can have peace of mind knowing that there are full-time licensed nurses available, along with activity coordinators, social workers, caregivers, a concierge and Rabbi who focus solely on helping each resident thrive. Even better, our services and amenities are equal to those of a state-of-the-art resort. This is the lifestyle and care that your loved one deserves.
At The Reutlinger Community, seniors have numerous opportunities to engage in award-winning programs that are designed to engage the mind, renew the spirit and provide opportunities to meet new people and learn something new. Whether residents are enjoying our art program and museum, listening to a lecture or educational program or attending spiritual programming and our wide range of activities, there’s something for each resident to love. Participate as much or as little as you like, the choice is all yours.
For more information or to schedule a personal tour, contact us today.